The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of my prosperity.  - Ulysses S. Grant

Good morning!

It has become increasingly difficult for me to write anything that mentions COVID these days. The scattered, state-led response in the US means that all of us have very different experiences of what it means to be alive as we enter into our third year of living in this pandemic. I often vacillate between feeling like I am over-reacting, or like I’m being gaslit, or like I’m the only sane person I know. 

At the end of the day, it’s all calculus, isn’t it? Like, I have friends who still are not eating in restaurants indoors, and others who are going to crowded nightclubs maskless. And then, of the latter crowd, there are those who are doing it because they trust in the science of the vaccines, and those who barely believe COVID exists. 

And the calculus I make here, with an immuno-compromised wife in an urban context in a city that still has a mask mandate, is very different from what I would make if I lived in rural Alabama. Hell, our calculus varies when we go to the suburbs here, where apparently there is no pandemic. 

All of which serves to make me feel unsure of myself almost always, and which leaves me feeling isolated and unsure what is safe to do about it. It all just adds another layer of friction that, as an introvert, was hard enough to manage before.My usual friend-making process in The Before Times was to meet lots of people and hope an extrovert adopted me. Which works great, as long as you are able to meet lots of people. But meeting new people feels hard to do any more.

The other day I met a new person who seemed interesting, and in The Before Times would have asked them to grab coffee, which I could still do, but now would have all sorts of questions about their vaccine status, and places that feel safe, and what if you find out they are some conspiracy nut? 

But yesterday we masked up and went to the large suburban Barnes and Nobles, which was nearly empty on Super Bowl Sunday, and spent three hours just browsing and sampling and feeling downright normal. I browsed sections I haven’t in ages - actually, I haven’t browsed anything, anywhere, in ages - and looked at new fiction and bought books that didn’t come in a cardboard box. 

It was lovely. 

How are you doing in all of this? Hit reply and tell me about how it is where you are, and how you are dealing. 

Five Beautiful Things

  • The 2021 winners of the Travel Photographer of The Year awards are out, and as always, they are amazing. Travel photography hits differently these days, as more of us are traveling, but it doesn’t feel like we are relaxing as much when we do. (See above about browsing vs shopping).
  • I came across this lovely excerpt from Rebecca Solnit’s excellent Men Explain Things to Me, about Virginia Wolfe and the darkness of the future that feels timely, even if it is from The Before Times. But then again, she often does that.
  • This is more just a generalized article about Illuminated manuscripts, but the illustrations are amazing, and if you aren’t that familiar with this world, it gives you a lot of jumping off points. 
  • This ice skating performance to The Sound of Silence is awe-inspiring. I literally had my jaw drop. And I don’t even like ice skating. 
  • I debated whether to put this essay on friendship from the Atlantic in the 5 beautiful things or not, as the writing is lovely, but the subject matter guts me (and is also related to the opening I write about my current reality).  

Heads Up
Next month will mark 7 years since I began these weekly emails where I share links to something I thought was beautiful with people like you. I will be sending out a survey later this week (watch your email for it) to find out what you enjoy about it, if you enjoy it, and to find ways I can make it better. But right now, if you have something you want me to know off the top of your head that you do or don’t enjoy or like or dislike about this project, let me know by hitting reply.

What’s your favorite part? Your least favorite part? If I had to drop part, what should it be? What would make it better?

Also, just a reminder that there will be no newsletter next week, as is my custom when Monday falls on a US Federal Holiday (readership plummets on those days anyway, and if gives me a break).

For all the ways you support this project - by sharing this letter with your friends, by talking it up on social media, by being a Patron, buying me a book or a cup of coffee, I am grateful for your support and all the ways you make this project possible.

This list grows slowly, by one or two names most weeks, because someone like you forwards it to somebody else, who subscribes. And if someone did forward this to you, you can get your own subscription here.

Take care of yourself. And each other. 

Hugh Hollowell Jr

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