14: The mood of a place
Capturing the essence of where you are and a poem from Alex Dimitrov
When I first started this newsletter, I was stuck in the chaos of Trump’s presidency and the hellish daily news cycle. As a coping mechanism, I wanted to tidy up everything I was consuming into a neat framework to make sense of what was happening. I thought this might somehow show me the bigger picture; I wanted to see trends and patterns beyond the distractions.
In the last year, I’ve given up on trying to fit things into frameworks. What’s still true, though (and a remnant of my framework approach) is the desire to see patterns and approach ideas from multiple angles.
As part of this realization, I’m going to start sending out a poem every month; it’s another way I try to see the world differently.
The good news is that poems are a lot shorter than what I usually send out 🙃 — it’s also refreshing to experience language outside of the flattened ways I tend to communicate online and at work. By way of interesting syntax and structure, I just feel more imaginative in general.
That’s something I’d like to embrace more of this year: imagining different ways of being rather than just writing about the ways things currently are (…. and aren’t working).
So here is the first poem: “More” by Alex Dimitrov. You can listen to him read it here if you’d like or here it is:
I first read this poem in 2020, when all of these jokers were saying that New York was “dead” and that they were moving to Miami. San Francisco was also emptying out — I’d never seen so many “For Rent” signs up, anywhere. At the time, I needed to remember what was so special about these cities for me that other people didn’t seem to value. This poem hit right because it reminded me of the essence of New York and in turn, inspired me to remember what I love about San Francisco.
In the last couple of years, I’ve become more aware of the mood of a place, and how this has outsized effect on how I think. American cities have been changing so fast in the last 20 (?) years, and will continue to change, so to capture the feeling a specific place and time feels special. The freakiest feeling is walking down a street, knowing that a building or restaurant is different, but not being able to remember what was once there; like a building ghost. I feel a weird need to capture what’s going on right now, assuming it won’t be there the next time I come around.
I suppose I’ve also been thinking about people who captured the mood of a place more recently because both Joan Didion and Eve Babitz died in December. Joan Didion’s revered because she’s elegant and tells it like it is, but honestly I relate more to Eve — Eve seemed fun and flamboyant; she somehow managed to be in “the scene” without getting blinded by it. In their own styles, they captured the mood of Los Angeles, and New York (for Didion) at the time.
All that being said, wherever you’re starting your year, I hope you know why you love it and notice the little things that make being there special.