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Hello,

Since I have lived in my house, I have been in a state of war with my yard. My yard sprawls, rather than grows. It has no sense of order: bushes spring up out of nowhere, cardinals and blue jays wander through grasses of varying height and phenotype, and it is home to so many bugs. I love it, which means I am also frequently annoyed by it. 

Late last week, when I was angry about feeling alone, I decided to trim some tree branches that extended over the street. It was rewarding work, so I trimmed the bushes as well. Afterward, I drank a large glass of water and felt much better. The nice thing about my yard is that no matter how well I trim it, it always grows back, usually in a matter of days. It is reliable. We exist together, my yard and I, and that is very comforting.

This newsletter is about comfort, and also the lack thereof. Alejandra Martinez writes about why she’s watching scary movies during a global pandemic. Observer intern Nick Yeager considers digital identity. And Lauren L’Amie writes about unseasonable anger, holy things, and being stuck inside. Happy reading.

Warmly,
Sunny Sone
Engagement Editor

Essay

Dark Comforts

By Alejandra Martinez

The last movie I saw before things took a nosedive was Birds of Prey, in mid-February. I have always found solace in the inky blackness of a darkened theater, and this was no exception. As I sipped a beer and watched Margot Robbie rollerblade across the screen, I felt my identity slip into the liminal space of the auditorium. And that, at least for the foreseeable future, was the end of my moviegoing days. 

A trip to the theater is no longer an option, but the films themselves are still there. Like a lot of people stuck at home, I’ve been ravenously consuming movies. The films I’m spending time with might seem counterintuitive—I’ve watched the bombastic desert apocalypse film Mad Max: Fury Road, 1990s horror classic Candyman, and creature feature Castle Freak. I’m thinking about revisiting last decade’s horror hit Hereditary or the Jake Gyllenhaal thriller Zodiac soon.

What can I say? Sometimes there’s nothing more comforting than watching horrible things happen right on your screen. Take, for instance, Candyman.

 

(Continued below.)

Reviews

Poem

sticky

by Lauren L’Amie

they say that it's more violent in the Summer
it's something about the heat &
the blood 
in novels it "boils"
it clenches its fists
it is inclined to callousness
it is sticky
but the cold hits
a tender brick
red and stinging
your nose which is
always dripping
"I'm unseasonably
angry" you tell me
you wipe the beads of sweat
above your lip &
offer up two warm palms
from deep clammy pockets  
is it a kind of violence
to be so full
of this kind of love?
We have not seen the sun 
for weeks
I think of 
how much we sweat
on the promenade
thighs touching and sticky
Oh to be so stuck again
It is nice to have some holy things: 
A bag of chips in bed,
sleeping in the crumbs
a place to sit and
wait for the bus
your ghost tattoo
saccharine coffee gone cold
the cup sweats, too 
it all goes fuzzy when
wind whips
blinking eyes
traffic lights blurred & soft
15th Street and somewhere warmer
the taxi driver thinks I'm crying
I pretend that I am,
I really am,
it’s something important
the thought of blood
it's something about the cold & 
the blood
I am not cold but
I am starving
I am not afraid to love you I am
just cold
I am just waiting to
feel the sun
I am full of temperance
I am free from obsession
I do not know how
to stop the shiver

Lauren L’Amie is a writer and editor from Austin, Texas living in Brooklyn. Her work has been published in New York, Cosmopolitan, and the Daily Dot.

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What We're Reading

Trick Mirror
by Jia Tolentino

After spending my days fielding endless Zoom calls and disappearing into the internet, I've been crawling back out with essays from Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion, a book largely about the writer’s quest to understand herself and her cultural moment. Tolentino, who grew up in Houston, is a critic of New Yorker fame—but, thanks to formative stints at the Hairpin and Jezebel, she’s well versed in the world of internet writing.

Tolentino’s internet isn’t always a pretty picture, but it’s honest. In “The I in Internet,” she interrogates the sea of pixels we wade through every day, a terrain she describes as a “feverish, electric, unlivable hell.” She writes that the internet has inflated our own sense of identity while disconnecting us from ourselves. The other essays in the book, on topics ranging from her appearance on a reality show as a teenager to memories of divine and drug-induced ecstasy in Houston, illustrate the tension between Tolentino’s search for identity and the notion of a fixed, unchanging identity itself. 

As a young writer, I’ve accepted that my online presence will be increasingly defined by marketing myself and my writing. All I can do is try to be genuine as I play the game. But in her very public and seemingly very honest quest for authenticity, Tolentino questions the game itself. Who do you become, she asks, when you look at yourself through the mirror of the internet? Were you ever there at all?

—Nick Yeager, culture intern

Comforts, continued

The film follows a graduate student, Helen, as she works on a misguided and increasingly dangerous thesis about urban legends. Early on, Helen violates the movie’s only rule. She says Candyman’s name five times while looking in a mirror. 

I’ve seen this movie at least three times, but it wasn’t just the familiarity that made my quarantine viewing special. I found a symmetry between Helen’s haunting and our own. The federal government has been reticent to acknowledge the virus’ threat, and we’re suffering the consequences of their silence: stalked by an invisible menace that could strike anyone, anywhere, anytime. Helen, on the other hand, has a knowable terror. She knows Candyman’s backstory—a horrific killing in the antebellum South—and M.O.—popping up with a rusty hook. She knows what could happen if she says his name. Predictably, she says it, sending herself into the clutches of her own invisible menace.

The horror movie is a comfort object: It follows strict rules, and once you know the logic of horror you can trace the patterns of it, like running a finger over a worry stone. Every action has a predictable reaction. Horror movies help us process hard questions and truths about life by holding the dark truths of society up to the light, exploring them for a couple of hours, and then putting them away.

While they don’t hold any answers, scary movies can prepare us for an uncertain future. Our society is changing rapidly, and in the face of compounding crises (climate change, voter suppression, kids in cages, not to mention the pandemic), it feels like the world is ending. At least in Mad Max, we know how it ends.

Watching movies like Candyman, or Mad Max, or even Hereditary is like draping myself in my weighted blanket, temporarily pausing the incessant chatter in my brain. I know it’s a temporary fix. There’s no happy ending in Candyman. But now more than ever, it’s satisfying to steep myself in a world whose rules I know, even if it’s full of dread.

Alejandra Martinez is a Tejana archivist, writer, and scholar. When she's not working on digital preservation projects in Austin, she's usually watching movies, writing about pop culture, drinking copious amounts of iced coffee, and spending too much time on Twitter.

Some movies Alejandra recommends watching during the pandemic: Annihilation (2018), House (1977), The Thing (1982), Alien (1979), and The Shining (1980). Alejandra says: “All five of these movies deal with relevant themes: the end of the world, the consequences of staying in a house too long, and the invasion of an alien or disease, just to name a few. Hopefully they can provide at least some kind of comfort or distraction from everything else happening in the world.”

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