4 min read

The Autumn of Longevity

Woman on a bicycle with a dog by Careshia Esperanza
Cover image by subscriber Careshia Esperanza

Since AI art dominated the last newsletter, I thought it would be fun to showcase some art from YOU ACTUAL HUMAN readers. Today's cover image is by extremely brilliant artist Careshia Esperanza (hi Careshia!). She also does entirely adorable pet portraits, which make superb gifts. If you're a profesh artist/illustrator who subscribes to this newsletter and you'd like to show off some of your work, hit me up!

Hello loves!

Happy equinox! There are now 99 days left of 2022. That's enough time to form 1.5 new healthy habits, learn the foundations of a new skill (if you spend 90 minutes per week on it), or go on 14 once-a-week lunch dates with a person you care about.

I like to set "themes" for every season, and I'm calling this my "Autumn of Longevity", trying to build good routines around physical and mental health. Basically, I've spent a lot of time recently slathering SPF on my face and throwing myself at bouldering walls. I've also been hard at work on the final round of edits for Girls of Little Hope (eee!) and trudging through my second novel, Snarltooth.

Here are five other things that have made my week:

1. Talking about money and Gen Z's

I had a great time chatting with veteran business journalist Alishia Seckam about the unique money challenges faced by young people in South Africa, for the PSG Think Big series. The starting point for our discussion was how crucial it is to have empathy for how much pressure Gen Z's are under. We also discussed focusing on the basics when it comes to financial education and tips for spotting a get-rich-quick scheme. You can watch the whole talk here, or read a summary of the highlights over at IOL.

2. The Queen's funeral

It's been a strange time to be an immigrant in the UK. The late queen's face is plastered everywhere, including on, like, the self-service checkout screen at the Tesco's. I've been surprised (and moved) by the sincere level of grief felt by people, even people my age who I'm fairly sure are steadfast republicans (in the British sense, i.e. people who think the monarchy is a silly idea). If you didn't grow up here, I think it's hard to imagine how important a symbol the queen has been for people throughout their lives. It's like everyone's grandma just died.

Laurie Penny captured this extremely well in their brilliant essay for GQ - "14 Hours in the Queue to See Queen Elizabeth's Coffin" (which my friend Lauren sent me):

Grief has been thick in the air in this country for years. We’ve been through two years of collective trauma that we haven’t processed... That pain and loss and hurt have to go somewhere. And the ailing Queen seemed to represent everything that was slowly slipping away and could not yet be grieved. It’s hard enough losing a person. There aren’t even words for what we have lost, and knowing that others have it far worse makes none of it better. How do you mourn an era?

Of course, there's some dissonance, because me and many of my friends living here are from places of the world who have somewhat different associations with the institution of the British Crown. So the books I've been suggesting to my English friends who've asked (they learn remarkably little about the British Empire at school) include Sathnam Sanghera's excellent Empireland, Namwali Serpell's novel The Old Drift, and Caroline Elkins' book about Britain's gulags in Kenya in the 1950s, Imperial Reckoning (the book led to a court case in 2012 that resulted in 5,228 Kenyans receiving financial compensation, and the foreign secretary for the first time ever publicly apologising for torture carried out in the name of the British Empire).

3. Totally watching television

I've been feeling pretty exhausted recently, so I've retreated to my favourite no-energy activity: watching just an absolute fuck-ton of TV. I tore through Trying, an Apple TV+ comedy about a Camden couple trying to adopt a kid, which was saved from being saccharine by also being very funny. I squealed out loud in joy every two minutes watching the long-awaited Netflix adaptation of The Sandman. And thrilled in every minute rewatching the criminally underrated American telenovela Jane the Virgin.

It's reminded me of a delightful Ron Padgett poem I discovered through Austin Kleon:

4. A Good Man is Hard to Find

I was working on a blog post about how comedy works in fiction, so I decided to re-read one of my favourite short stories, "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor, first published in 1953. The weird thing is that I'd filed the story in my head as being screamingly funny. And it is... but I'd entirely forgotten that it's also disturbing as heck.

It's a simple story: a family of six start driving from Georgia to Florida to visit relatives, but things go horribly wrong. The humour mostly derives from the grandmother protagonist, who is a thoroughly horrible person who believes she is a very good person. The story is a masterclass in pacing, comedic rhythm, and the slow building of dread. You might have read it in high school, but I recommend reading it again. It's brilliant, hilarious, deeply disturbing, and easy to find online.

5. Against nihilism

Finally, I utterly adored this short video by John Green, "Against Nihilism".

I'll leave you with this (related) quote from Lois McMaster Bujold (The Borders of Infinity):

“Now, there's this about cynicism, Sergeant. It's the universe's most supine moral position. Real comfortable. If nothing can be done, then you're not some kind of shit for not doing it, and you can lie there and stink to yourself in perfect peace."

Wishing you an excellent final 99 days of 2022,