joan didion, the metaverse, how it feels to lose it
off brand: august 2nd round up
Helloooo. It’s been a couple of weeks of unfinished books (400 pages on the Columbine High School massacre was, shocker, too depressing), bad weather, distraction, and some disappointment.
How do you deal with setbacks? There’s one essay I find myself returning to again (and again…) in times like this: Joan Didion’s 1961 piece for Vogue on self respect. It’s definitely dated – heads up on a questionable and entirely pointless anecdote about a group of Native Americans in the 1800s – but there’s wisdom to be found in it. “Most of our platitudes notwithstanding, self-deception remains the most difficult deception,” she writes. “The charms that work on others count for nothing in that devastatingly well-lit back alley where one keeps assignations with oneself.”
In life, the lights do not always turn green. Things do not always go our way. Without self respect, we become trapped by our own perceived shortcomings, overwhelmed by other peoples’ expectations and demands, which, keen to be liked, we place ahead of our own needs. This is no way to live:
We are peculiarly in thrall to everyone we see, curiously determined to live out—since our self-image is untenable—their false notions of us. We flatter ourselves by thinking this compulsion to please others an attractive trait: a gift for imaginative empathy, evidence of our willingness to give...
It is the phenomenon sometimes called alienation from self. In its advanced stages, we no longer answer the telephone, because someone might want something; that we could say no without drowning in self-reproach is an idea alien to this game. Every encounter demands too much, tears the nerves, drains the will, and the spectre of something as small as an unanswered letter arouses such disproportionate guilt that one's sanity becomes an object of speculation among one's acquaintances. To assign unanswered letters their proper weight, to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves—there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect.
To Didion, self respect is “the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life” – unanswered emails and all. I like this essay because it’s about that sense of responsibility: about making your own bed and sleeping in it. It’s about putting yourself first, and the resilience, and, I think, courage it takes to “give us back to ourselves”.
Mark Zuckerberg says: get ready for the metaverse. In an interview on The Vergecast, the Facebook autocrat explains his plans for the social media company to lead the “embodied internet” by expanding into VR and AR by the end of this decade. So maybe one day you will be able to participate in conspiracy theory communities on a virtual reality headset. The thrill.
Activision Blizzard, the $65bn video games giant known best for Call of Duty and World of Warcraft, is being sued by the State of California for a litany of alleged instances of gender-based discrimination, from sexual harassment to the systemic underpayment of female employees. I’d recommend YouTuber and lawyer Emily D Baker’s detailed breakdown of the lawsuit. It’s bad.
15 years after Angelina Jolie and Leonardo DiCaprio were rumoured to be taking the lead roles, Ridley Scott’s Gucci movie is almost here. Starring Lady Gaga and Adam Driver, the film tells the infamous true story of the murder of Maurizio Gucci, organised by his ex-wife. Salma Hayek, whose husband is the CEO of Kering, Gucci’s parent company, also stars – the fashion house has given the production archive access, so expect to see some fits.
Gawker is back! The infamous website was sued out of existence by Hulk Hogan in a suit bankrolled by billionaire Paypal founder and pro-Trump gay, Peter Thiel – a messy story told in the documentary Nobody Speak. But right in time for Bennifer 2.0, it’s risen from the ashes with such important stories as: Do Justin and Hailey Bieber hate each other? and a story by Jocelyn Silver that has received its long-awaited debut into the public domain: Timothée Chalamet’s spittle landed on me at China Chalet.
PinkPantheress. If you don’t know, now you know.
I’ve been wearing a pair of Evisu jeans I’ve held onto for years, waiting for their moment to come, and my favourite Stray Rats x Marc Jacobs jumper has been getting a lot of wear as England’s summer continues to underwhelm. A vintage Versace dress recently got its first outing, a black shift with skin-bearing slashes across it, plus tiny Medusa studs. Accessories wise, I have been loving this mini Coach bag that was a gift from my friend Prince and is inspired by their archives. I was also generously given some great sunglasses lately which have been getting serious wear: the Nanushka Gimma silhouette (fig 1), and this purple Jimmy Fairly pair. I am (still) trying very hard to not late-night shop my anxiety away on things with dodgy ethics.
I really enjoyed listening to Rabbit Hole, a podcast series from the New York Times about the rise of the alt right, Q anon, conspiracy theories, and the role that algorithms – particularly YouTube’s – play in all of it. It’s an investigation into the ways that people are radicalised online, and how internet brainwashing can cross over into real life – with tragic consequences. Listen here:
“What am I, if I’m not a good tennis player?” This is the existential question at the heart of Naomi Osaka’s three-episode Netflix documentary, which I watched all in one afternoon. The film explores the pressures the tennis player has faced since she won the US Open and was thrust into the spotlight – a glare she clearly struggles with. It was filmed far before her decision to withdraw from competition due to her mental health, but have we been given better examples of the “giving us back to ourselves” Didion talks about recently than Osaka and Simone Biles? Both women, aged 23 and 24 respectively, have taken extraordinary steps to put their own wellbeing above competitions, despite enormous pressure (and a predictable pushback). To me, they are heroes. As Biles said: physical health is mental health.
I’ve been reading a lot of poetry lately (maybe it was the Sylvia Plath auction that did it) and came back to Scary Movies by Kim Addonizio, which I think contains one of my favourite descriptions of “how it feels to lose it”, that acknowledgement that it’s not always dramatic – more often it’s a banal kind of dread that seeps in at the edges. An extract below – head here for the full piece. I’d recommend her collections What is This Thing Called Love and Lucifer at the Starlight.
Today the cloud shapes are terrifying,
and I keep expecting some enormous
black-and-white B-movie Cyclops
to appear at the edge of the horizon,
to come striding over the ocean
and drag me from my kitchen
to the deep cave that flickered
into my young brain one Saturday
at the Baronet Theater where I sat helpless
between my older brothers, pumped up
on candy and horror—that cave,
the litter of human bones
gnawed on and flung toward the entrance,
I can smell their stench as clearly
as the bacon fat from breakfast. This
is how it feels to lose it—
not sanity, I mean, but whatever it is
that helps you get up in the morning
and actually leave the house
on those days when it seems like death
in his brown uniform
is cruising his panel truck
of packages through your neighborhood.
See u next time x