The Delights of Distraction No.48

We started this letter a little less than a year ago, in hope to easy the tedium, the loneliness and the unpredictable stretch of time and despair that lockdown imposed. We hoped the Delights of Distraction would only be required for a couple of months. As quarantine time crawled on (the days were long, but the weeks flew by) and the couple of months grew into a couple more seasons; the miraculous arrival of the vaccine meant that we could finally exhale. We could finally get on with our day, fearless and determined to ignore the sense of dread looming at the edge of our consciousness. 
But now, in a stomach-sinking feeling of Deja-vu, we’re again witnessing the wreckage of the virus . The words “record-breaking” are tragically paired with “deadliest pandemic days” in newspaper headlines - and we are back to tracking Covid cases again, a wild uptick on a graph that signals the second (fourth?) wave. This has led to a  certain dissonance: the vaccine hope that we nursed in our hearts, versus the horrors of the decimation of the virus that we are observing en masse. 
We could probably term this doom-tinged-deja-vu-stripping-of-hope, as an “ambiguous grief”. It has uncertain dimensions; because our losses are ill-defined, we cannot fully understand what the pandemic will cost us. We can only hope this is the last haul, before the joy of being out in the sun or at a restaurant with friends isn’t tainted with fear and worry. For the sake of lives and livelihoods, we hope you’re staying masked and safe and that eventually the only distraction you would need to seek would be from your crammed social calendar.  
And keeping onwards, to our favourite links of the week:
To Read: Over the past years, mental illness has gone from being stigmatised to glamourised in all sorts of unhealthy ways. There are “right” ways and “wrong” ways to be mentally ill, as long as it makes you brilliant, interesting and you use your suffering to turn it into art later. Andrea Bennett deconstructs some of these toxic presumptions in this essay on being bipolar. 
Sometimes, I dream about how wealthy I would need to be to take a break from feeling the fear that propels me to remain stable. I don’t dream about not being bipolar, because I don’t know where my self ends and where the illness begins—and if there is even really a difference. And I don’t know what I would dream to render the divisions between good sick and bad sick unnecessary, to make it so that we all get to remain people, without sacrificing some of us to quarantine and cautionary tale.”
 
This essay called “The Crane Wife.” Written by C.J. Hauser ran in the Paris Review  in 209 and went viral for its delicate portrayal of a feeling many women know all too well: the constant dread and self-management to avoid seeming “needy,” The writer articulates how she’s too invisible in the relationship, she doesn’t count enough to merit more concern from her fiancé and she can no longer contort herself down to nothing so as to pretend to be happy.
On a crane-studying trip she discovers the Japanese folktale “The Crane Wife” in a bookstore. In it, a crane tricks a man into thinking she’s a woman so she can marry him. 
“She loves him, but knows that he will not love her if she is a crane so she spends every night plucking out all of her feathers with her beak. She hopes that he will not see what she really is: a bird who must be cared for, a bird capable of flight, a creature, with creature needs. Every morning, the crane-wife is exhausted, but she is a woman again. To keep becoming a woman is so much self-erasing work. She never sleeps. She plucks out all her feathers, one by one.”
 

To Joy Scroll: According to the artist, Angry Dan, you only need two things to write a limerick: a love of language, and an appreciation for the absurd. Angry Dan’s work, which spans limericks about everything, from the personal, to the informative, to the entertaining, are then illustrated by him in bright, bold colours or painted as studio canvases and public murals. His works reflect a mix of everything we love, a serene charm, playful colour, profound subjects, all with a touch of whimsy and humour. Check out his joyful musings on his instagram, and read more about his work here

 
To Amuse: Jangle Shane used AI to train neural webs on how to write pick up lines. Here are some of the hilarious results Ai threw up at her: 
 
I'm losing my voice from all the screaming your hotness is causing me to do.
You have the most beautiful fangs I've ever seen.
I love you. I don't care if you're a doggo in a trenchcoat.
You have a lovely face. Can I put it on an air freshener? I want to keep your smell close to me always.
       You look like a stealth assassin from the clouds.
       I Love You, I Love You, I Love You To The confines of death and disease, the legions of earth rejoices. Woe be to th world!
 
To Watch: This is a delightful and elegiac look at the sights and sounds of Mumbai, written and narrated by live action and creative director David Baksh.  It is all very laid back which belies the often frenetic way that Mumbaikars travel on its streets and highways.‘The Bombay Highway Code’ made official selection at Encouters Film Festival back in 2014. 
 
Also - uplifting, dream-like and fun, Argentine film-maker Fernando Livschitz's works playfully through Magic Realism. His stories unfold organically showing the extraordinary as something ordinary and common. His imagination and juxtaposition of everyday with the fantastical create a wonderfully surreal yet dreamy mood. Check out his one minute video, Anywhere Can Happen.
 
To Learn: Avoiding bad decisions is just as important as making good ones. Knowing the warning signs and having a set of rules for your decision-making process limits the amount of luck you need to get good outcomes. The prolific and infinitely practical and wise Farnam Street Blog lays out 5 major reasons we make bad decisions
 
To Cook: The other day a friend of ours used fish sauce in all his cooking, to add umami to his home-cooked Thai and Malaysian dishes. Most of his friends, who were vegetarian, were not amused. He had slaved all morning in the kitchen to achieve this meal, but ended up ordering dal makhani and naans from the local dhaba. 
The process of making fish sauce, to add flavour to East-Asian cuisines is straightforward: salt + fish + fermentation over time and in the sun. But what happens if you’re mostly plant-based? Here’s where Mama Dut comes to the rescue: a vegetarian fish sauce you can add to all your dishes that need a little Umami-ing up:
 
To Life Hack: There are 7 types of rest: physical, mental, sensory, creative, emotional, social, and spiritual. Obvious advice would be to make sure you are carving out time for exercise, sleeping, screen-breaks, nature, and meditation. But two types of rest that we never accounted for are emotional rest and social rest. Emotional rest is giving yourself time and space to freely express your feelings. (like a therapy session.) And to experience social rest spend time with positive and supportive people that “revive” you, and stay away from the relationships that drain you of energy.
 
To end with this poem by Edna St Vincent Millay, written in 1921 in the wake of WW1. It is a comedic diatribe against Spring and the platitudes of its beauty considering the horrors of war that was witnessed. And yet, the poem itself becomes a type of answer to the problem of meaning: even if life is inherently meaningless, making art out of crisis generates beauty.
 
Spring
 
To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
April
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.
 
We hope you are safe and healthy and savouring moments of joy whenever the world hands them to you,
Viv & Ami
 
P.S. If you are just joining us and would like to explore the Delights of Distraction newsletters No.1-47 you can find them here. As per your requests, we have archived all the previous newsletters on our website.
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