In the heat of the summer, a year after sharing our first ever Fossil, we find ourselves back in New York City, ready for a recharge. Sophie mulls on unplugging; Ling rethinks the voltage.
Sophie: I need to recharge. When do I not? At the end of a day, at the end of a week, at the end of a beginning of a week, I often find myself thinking that I need to be somehow replenished, like I’m low on energy or willpower or brain cells and I need a boost. Recharging is a convenient metaphor because we do it all the time with our machines—just plug them in for a bit and they’re refreshed. We can even use them while they’re charging, a seamless transition from near-electric-death to automated plugging along.
Of course, our own recharging is a much more difficult proposition: sleep can help, but it’s not a perfect formula and sometimes it doesn’t happen quite right. Vegetables and exercise and yoga and turning off devices and caffeine and pep talks—these can all help with our metaphorical recharge, but they’re not a perfect formula like a plug into a correctly-shaped hole. Sometimes are bodies and minds are stubborn mysteries.
I have been thinking lately, as usual, about how our language about wellness is bending toward the language of machines. I certainly think of myself as one, in some ways—a machine that needs an above-average amount of sleep, three square meals a day, two coffees. A machine that works better in the mornings, and if I’m running regularly, and if I can get to the very end of a to-do list rather than leaving things lingering. A machine that falters in the afternoons. There is of course something a bit perverse about this, and antithetical to what we really might be seeking when we recharge: a real escape from the endless churn of productivity. Maybe I don’t want to recharge so much as to unplug for a period of time—from obligations, from work, from the business of moving through busy cities in the rainy summer. Maybe I want to turn off completely for a bit, and then decide when I restart.
Yi-Ling: Charging Baos (充电宝) — pocket-sized battery packs — have proliferated across China. In people’s backpacks, taxi cabs and workplaces. On coffee shop counters, in nail salons and in train stations. The ubiquity of the Charging Bao has meant that I no longer worry about a dying phone. When juice is low, I plug in and am ready to go again.
Our capacity for endless recharge has reinforced the rhetoric that we too, can recharge ourselves as we do our devices, just as efficiently. That when we are low, we too, can be swiftly administered a dose. Have a latté. Take a hot bath. Go on a retreat. Get some alone time. Self-care. One jolt, and we are ready to go again.
I am currently in New York, in need of such a recharge, in the middle of a year of expending much emotional energy, and have found that a true recharging of the self defies logic and demands patience, and that often, at least for me, the one and only infallible, deep-in-the-bones, rejuvenating source of energy, has been the love of good people. At the moment, that source has been the warmth of friends I haven’t seen in a year, and who have lit my face up with a grin so expansive that I find my cheeks sore at the end of the day.
And the funny thing about love as energy source is that the battery pack, unlike other battery packs, grows more powerful with use. Anybody who has gotten a jolt of this good stuff knows this. To love means at times to absorb others’ smallest mannerisms and find them imprinted in your own actions, to discover the lyrics of the music they listen to woven into your own words, to understand what gives them pleasure, and find those pleasures have become yours. Love begets love. The voltage doubles. The worn battery pack is found on the shelf months later, still aglow with a kind of quiet, alienated majesty, still prepared, still going and going and flowing.
Reading and writing:
SH: I wrote for The New York Times about a phenomenon I like to think about as “books as background.” I also wrote about some of the challenges small museums face, especially a small collection on Staten Island that’s struggling. I wrote a feature about the future of food and virtual reality for Slate, and considered/lambasted San Francisco for The Baffler. I wrote some art reviews too: one about Lee Krasner, a wonderful imaginative painter, and about a weird show that featured shoes in art. I have been reading some good novels: The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard and A.S. Byatt’s Possession.
YL: Sitting in the NYU Elmer Bobst library, churning out the long form piece of narrative non-fiction on a Chinese social networking app, with the support of theMatthew Power Literary Reportage Grant. A small digression has been this essay for Technode, on consumer genetic tests and knowing thyself. On the bookshelf: a novel — Normal People by Sally Rooney, a volume of poetry — Oculus, by Sally Wen Mao, thisChinese podcast series inspired by This American Life — Gushi.fm, and All In My Family, a new Netflix documentary by Hao Wu.