Art for A Fête Worse Than Death.
What would Barbara do? | The Baffler

A Fête Worse Than Death

It’s better to fantasize than party during the pandemic

What would Barbara do? | The Baffler
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In DESIGNS FOR LIVING, columnist Marlowe Granados dispenses sound advice in a noisy world. Send your rants and pleas to [email protected] for Marlowe’s consideration.

 

Hi Marlowe!

I am twenty-three and stuck living in my parents house in the middle of nowhere. I know I’m lucky not to have to pay rent during this but oh my god, I am losing it. I have no friends or lovers around here. Before Covid my life was glam, exciting, and full of hot people and now my phone is dry and dating apps are pointless. I can’t shake the feeling that I am wasting one of few precious years where I’m gorgeous and young and unattached. I have managed a few visits to friends in cities but it’s too risky lately because the numbers in my area have spiked. I feel like a nineteenth-century depressed housewife being forced into the rest cure. How can I revive my comatose social life before I go full yellow wallpaper mode? More importantly how do I do that without texting my ex or risking my or other people’s health?

xoxo,

Wasting my Jordan year 

 

Dear Jordan Year,

As this is the first column to address Covid life, let’s look at how difficult this new era is. I have seen people ignore the guidance of their local government with a hollow brattiness that feels gauche rather than . . . I assume their intended effect is “subversive.”

For places like the city I live in, regular testing is no longer available unless you have been exposed to Covid or have symptoms. Adopting rapid testing as part of your lifestyle just isn’t sustainable. The thought that we could get tested in the effort to be able to do what we want to do only feels a fraction safe. Suddenly everyone is a mathematician—calculating the days, hours, weeks between contacts while factoring in the distance from another person’s body. It seems we are all balancing how serious it would be if we got sick against the value of momentary pleasure. The possibilities and outcomes splinter and divide, while affecting those in our community who have no say in the matter.

We are selfish when we justify things that make us feel good, or at the very least normal, at the expense of others. This new era has us constantly navigating our own safety: how much of a priority this is, and how much we value the health of the community around us. What’s clear is that people often do not think of others when acting for themselves. Isn’t that basically capitalism?

An odious display I was recently privy to involved a man, who is a CFO of some kind, post about having to be “creative” in terms of arranging an intimate dinner with friends. His outline noted that before dinner was to be served by a personal chef, guests would come early and get tested with high-tech PCR machines that would give lab-level results within fifteen minutes. As someone who says yes to every dinner party I’m invited to, I would sit this particular evening out. To me, it shows a level of bad taste that no one should aspire to. A line often attributed to Barbara Stanwyck feels apropos: “It was a fête worse than death.”

Our patterns of behavior are now shaped by observing other people’s movements—the more you see people doing something the more it feels okay to do. Which is why everyone knows at least one person who has gone on vacation this past year. As Helen Rosner recently wrote for The New Yorker in a piece on indoor dining, “There is a flip side to the fallacy of individual responsibility during the pandemic: just because we’ve been given permission to do something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.” Rosner writes that upon seeing the disastrous results of the past year, wanting to do something is no longer reason enough.  

During this time of solitude and while we are all inside, this is what I hope will tide us over—imaginative preparedness for the future and all its possibilities.

Now, it isn’t as if dating was a picture of health in previous eras. Men’s faces still fall when you tell them to get a condom. Keeping options open, seeing multiple people at once, and the basic trial and error aspect of dating do not fit easily within this new world. But an element of seriousness and distrust taints these new connections, as monogamy is now the safest route. Asking someone you want to casually date to limit their intimate contact with other people can get sticky. A whole new set of moral questions come up that you must frame with any new partner. Now, all the worst things about contemporary dating are compounded. How do you ask someone to commit to your health when respect and commitment are so hard-earned?

Now, back to the original question. Age backwards for a moment. Remember when you were seventeen and thought being twenty-three would be the height of adulthood? Now as I sit here on the cusp of being thirty—reading letters from an assortment of twenty-three-year-olds—let me tell you, there are many years of being young, attractive, and unattached ahead of you.

I did not know the meaning of Jordan year. For those of us who are similarly unaware of sports: it refers to Michael Jordan’s jersey number. Nor can I remember what I was doing when I was twenty-three—it was an age that held no distinctions, and I hope that gives you some peace of mind. Divest from the idea that being young and beautiful is reserved for your early twenties. You’re young until you’re well into your thirties, and after that you’re sophisticated.

You’ve reminded me of paintings by Hungarian artist Béla Czene. They often depict beautiful, stylish young women in solitary moments, flipping through reading materials, or caught bored and waiting—it seems—for anything to happen. In his nudes, the women are entirely naked with the exception of a sandal or heel. To me, this is a sign of anticipation. The women are prepared to dash at a moment’s notice. Whenever that thing happens, they will be there, and with haste. During this time of solitude and while we are all inside, this is what I hope will tide us over—imaginative preparedness for the future and all its possibilities. For us to meet life head-on with a particular passion that comes from waiting . . . and dreaming.

Now is the time to revert to your childish sense of fantasy. Remember when all you knew were the four walls of your childhood bedroom? It was so easy to conjure up a world from nothing, and now that faculty can be dusted off. If you are someone that lived for beauty and glamor, you are already familiar with how a little curation can set the tone. Sometimes I’m in my apartment trying on a dress I bought during a number of blackout-purchasing-hazes, and an Italo-disco song comes on and I imagine what it would be like to live a completely different life in a more ignorant time. Maybe I’m a wife of someone, hosting a dinner party in a semi-sheer Pucci number that evokes both a keen sense of personal style and an effortless vacation sensibility. Maybe I’m tossing a salad, maybe it’s not the end of the world. It takes exactly three glasses of wine and five minutes of daydreaming to take me out of my present moment.

We are here to find new corners of our desire by yearning. It’s fine to linger in old feelings purely for the memory of romance, but we don’t want to take them on again. Use this time to think methodically about what you want and desire. This doesn’t have to be so serious, either. For me, it can range from how much I should practice French each day to whether I should get into fine jewelry. If you get stuck, I suggest reading novels about industrious young women or memoirs of Old Hollywood. Watch films from an unfamiliar era—I always say that the costuming of a film is a success if I try to incorporate whatever look it is in my wardrobe. Paint, and not because you want to be an artist. Capitalism professionalizes all our hobbies, so the pleasure of making something is undercut with how successful you are at it. I can’t think of anything more terrible. It is the perfect time to try something out and fail beautifully at it.

Now, I never suggest texting an ex unless you are looking for a little drama and want an amuse-bouche of old heartbreak. Wring whatever nostalgia you need out of it! Just don’t go so far as to stepping backwards. In addition to fabricating turmoil with old flames, inventing a crush is a pleasant diversion to pass the time. It is truly incredible how much trouble you can get into from the comfort of your own home. Creating a crush out of nowhere requires an artistry that can only be learned with practice. I say cast your net far and wide. Digital crushes have a lifespan of days, so the more on your roster the better. Aren’t the beginnings of getting to know someone built on inflated delusions anyway?

Fizzy, youthful person that you are, being bottled up right now will be useful later. Imagine all the hedonistic possibilities of pent-up twenty-somethings. Personally, I am excited for you. Like Anita Loos writes in her 1966 memoir, “A new age of adventure for the girls was coming into focus.”

Marlowe Granados is a writer and filmmaker based in Toronto. She co-hosts The Mean Reds, a podcast dedicated to women-led films. Her debut novel Happy Hour is now available in Canada. It will be published in the US & UK August 2021 by Verso Books.

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