Poetry from Nigeria, a coronavirus romcom, life on Venus, and more.
Digest #14, September 14th 2020
I came across this beautiful poem earlier this week, and it has stayed with me since. The work is titled "Something in the Air Wants us too Much" and it is by emerging Nigerian writer Anthony Okpunor. The poem explores trauma and love with painfully beautiful language. As I always say, art is subjective and I believe there is no 'correct' interpretation of any work. My husband Alex (who manages public art), after I read the work to him, stared blankly at me and said "yeah, I don't get it". Which is more than fair. Language is like ambrosia to me, and I don't have the same appetite for visual art that he does. For me, these next words are possibly the most exquisite I've read all year:
My lover’s body is a feather dipped in frankincense.
How do I manage war outside you? I wonder
how many stars died in us
when he swallowed all that sadness— who even
goes after a child that just wants
to sit with God’s butterflies?
This excerpt only fractionally captures the magic of Okpunor's writing. I encourage you to read this beautiful work in full directly on Frontier Poetry's website.
Art from the poem's publication, on Frontier Poetry.
Strangely, reality never feels really-real to me until I see it reflected in fiction. The Freeform limited series Love in the Time of Corona is, as far as I know, the first show to depict our current circumstances amid coronavirus. The characters are in quarantine, wearing masks, and social distancing. They're dealing with what we are, and haven't seen on screen yet because it isn't safe to produce anything right now. So how did this show even happen? It was filmed remotely, with strict hygiene procedures, in actors' own homes. Actual families of actors were cast in roles, and were tested and kept in isolated bubbles throughout filming. They did their own hair and makeup. They wore (mostly) their own clothes. A Black Lives Matter related plot thread comes up in one episode, as the creators and actors wanted to use the opportunity to be "honest" about life. It's unprecedented, current, raw and real; and that's what makes it exciting. In the US you can watch it now on Hulu.
Actor Leslie Odom Jr. (yes, from Hamilton!), and his wife and co-star Nicolette Robinson.
On Monday of last week, a paper was published noting that there are possible signs of life on our nearest planet, Venus. All scientists aren't on the life-on-Venus train though, as the only indicator is phospine gas in the atmosphere of the planet. Not much is known about how biological organisms (including us) produce phosphine gas, so it's purely speculative that living organisms are responsible for it, and based on our knowledge of chemistry and physics solely from our own planet. We also have to contend with the fact that the atmosphere of Venus is extremely inhospitable to any lifeforms we are familiar with. It is hot enough to melt metal, the surface pressure is as crushing as being 3,000 meters below sea here, and it rains acid all day. I don't want to imagine what kind of alien would be evolutionarily cool with all of that and be living in the clouds above the surface of this nightmare land. But, at this point, I also wouldn't put it past the year 2020 if some big acid-eating lava monsters showed up here. I wish I was joking, but that's where I'm at.
The clearest picture that has ever been taken of the surface of Venus.
Chopin's composition Fantaisie-Impromptu is my all-time favorite piece of classical music. If you haven't heard it before, I'm excited to be introducing it to you. Much like the subjectivity of poetry, I can't explain to you why this sounds so incredible to me. I first heard it when I was about fourteen, and no other composition has come close since. I played piano for about six years in my youth, and always fantasized (pun not intended, but ha!) about being able to play this. I was never dedicated enough to practicing, though. Maybe one day, if I end up in a Groundhog Day type scenario and have unlimited time, I'll tick that one off of the bucket list.
Frédéric Chopin, detail of a photo by L.A. Bisson, 1849, taken in the home of his Parisian publisher.
I am not giving you a full recipe this week, as that would be disingenuous of me. For the first time in a long time, I have been too busy to cook anything properly. I ordered a bunch of salad bags from Whole Foods and have been trying to quickly jazz them up at lunch time, opening baby food with one hand and holding a laptop in the other. One of my surefire meal uplifters is this delicious lemon and tahini sauce. You can put it on salad, sure, but it also works on chicken, roasted vegetables, in wraps, and drizzled over rice or cooked grains. The sky is the limit. If you know you're going to have a busy and basic-chef week like me, I recommend making a batch on Sunday and going to town with it!
This stuff is delicious and works on nearly anything. Image is cropped, from Cookie+Kate.
My colleague Kimberly reminded me this week what a wonderful episode of This American Life episode 713, "Made to be Broken" was. If you aren't familiar with the format of the radio show and podcast, every week a theme is introduced, and different stories are told connected to that theme. In this episode, the prologue tells a delightful story about subversion and Uber driver strikes in Nairobi. Act one is a completely spellbinding rumination on time limits, and our differing abilities. Act two perfectly illustrates societal inequity and injustice, through a man's memory of an experience school. I don't want to spoil the show for you, but the first Act in particular completely changed the way that I think about time, and the unintentional violence in having temporal equality without considering temporal equity. If that sentence went completely over your head, please listen to the episode; I promise it will all make sense.
Jerome Ellis, the subject of Act One, performing.
To bid you goodbye for another week, I want to show you this video I saw on Viola Davis' Instagram. It's sweet, simple and joyful. That's what we all deserve right now.