1. Forgive me for going a little light on the commentary this week, first week of school and all that. Fortunately, though, there’s no dearth of material! First up, Amanda Hess penned yet another doozie for The NY Times, this time taking the new season of Netflix’s Queer Eye as an entry point to discuss “The New Spiritual Consumerism.” Needless to say, her critique brims with #seculosity:

As [the show’s] gurus lead the men (and occasionally, women) in dabbing on eye cream, selecting West Elm furniture, preparing squid-ink risotto and acquiring gym memberships, they are building the metaphorical framework for an internal transformation. Their salves penetrate the skin barrier to soothe loneliness, anxiety, depression, grief, low self-esteem, absentee parenting and hoarding tendencies. The makeover is styled as an almost spiritual conversion. It’s the meaning of life as divined through upgraded consumer choices…

Lately American materialism is debuting a new look. Shopping, decorating, grooming and sculpting are now jumping with meaning. And a purchase need not have any explicit social byproduct — the materials eco-friendly, or the proceeds donated to charity — to be weighted with significance. Pampering itself has taken on a spiritual urgency…

Now the ethos of “self-care” has infiltrated every consumer category. The logic of GOOP, Gwyneth Paltrow’s luxury brand that sells skin serums infused with the branding of intuition, karma and healing, is being reproduced on an enormous scale… Women’s shoes, bras, razors, tampons and exclusive private clubs are stamped with the language of empowerment. SoulCycle and Equinox conceive of exercise as not just a lifestyle but a closely held identity…

It’s a little bit curious that as our political discourse is concerned with economic inequality — and the soaring costs of health care, education and homes — the cultural conversation is fixated on the healing powers of luxury items…

2. Before you despair, however, The Bitter Southerner is here to introduce you to a new restaurant in Alabama and the remarkable woman who runs it, in “The Difference Between Happiness and Joy.” The whole profile is very much worth your time, but here are a few morsels to whet your appetite (#sanctification):

The rule at Drexell & Honeybee’s is “everybody eats.” When diners are done with their meal, they put whatever money they can — or not a single cent — in a box by the door. Drexell & Honeybee’s is a donations-only restaurant, one of only a handful in the state (and one of the only ones not run by a church). Every Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., it satisfies the stomachs of, on average, 100 people daily…

While [founder and chef Lisa Thomas-McMillan] avoids preaching, faith’s role in her story is obvious. Some might say she stumbled upon her current location and call the circumstances that made it available good luck, but Lisa believes God guided every step. “It was time to go bigger with what I was doing, and then I found this place,” she says. A string of what Lisa calls “heaven-directed” events allowed her and the man she had recently married, Freddie McMillan, to buy the building and transform it into the second coming of Drexell & Honeybee’s, using credit cards and Freddie’s pension from the Marine Corps to fund it and doing much of the work themselves.

“Honestly, when people first heard ‘you can eat for free,’ a lot thought there was a catch,” David Kyles, Lisa’s brother-in-law, says, making short work of his potato-salad mountain. “I mean who’d ever heard of such a thing?” Now, most of the talk he hears is about the food. “The word is out on how delicious everything is and the nice atmosphere,” he says. “That’s bringing people in from other towns.”

For Dale and Sam, a retired couple from Massachusetts who moved to nearby Castleberry four years ago, Lisa epitomizes the Southern hospitality that drew them down here. “This is loving your neighbor,” says Dale. She and Sam have lunch at Drexell & Honeybee’s several times a week and have been struck by the diversity. “Every kind of person is in here,” says Sam. Dale nods to an elderly man moving slowly toward the booth behind her with a plate piled high. “He’s a regular. He had a stroke a while back and can’t work. He has no family here. I think this might be all he eats each day.”…

In Lisa’s heart, there is no room for judgment. She doesn’t question or even wonder why anyone might be at points in their lives where they need D&H. She never watches the donation box. “Sometimes, somebody I know will snitch, telling me, ‘Lisa, you know who was in here, ate up a whole bunch, and didn’t put a dime in the box?’ I say, ‘No, and I don’t want to.’ Do you know how crazy I’d go if I tried to keep tabs on that? That’s not what this is about.” Her diners aren’t always as open-minded…

The pursuit of joy has long motivated Lisa. “I’ve learned the joy you get when you serve others,” Lisa says. “And don’t mistake it, joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness is fleeting; joy is something down in your soul.”

At Drexell & Honeybee’s, Lisa deepens the idea of “soul food.” She pours the joy from her soul into fried chicken, stewed okra and tomatoes, mac and cheese, and pork chops — only to find herself continually refilled. “The more you do, the more you’re able to do, and the richer you become. Not with things or money. With love,” she says. “I don’t think nothing can top that.”

3. New Word of the Week has got to be “unfluencer,” as Marisa Meltzer explains in a pretty hilarious (and uncomfortable) column for The Cut. Think of it as the social media version of “hate-watching,” or simply another evolution of how individuals can embody the little-l law in our lives, not only as an Ideal but its opposite, attraction as well as repulsion, conformity as well as rebellion:

Meet the unfluencer, the person who makes me want to do the opposite of whatever she’s doing and throw out whatever I already own that she has posted about...

Weddings and vacations are prone to unfluence because people have spent a lot of time planning them and putting money into making them look a certain way; children and pets because they’re generally regarded as cute; activism and exercise because people like to show off about doing good for themselves and the planet (self-care: an unfluencer minefield). I have found myself compiling a brief list of things unfluencers have ruined for me, and they include wide-leg pants, most potted plants, Rachel Cusk, Aesop hand balm, the Met Breuer, being “into Broadway,” the Marlton, all destination weddings, Barry’s Bootcamp, the brand Self-Portrait, rattan, P50 toner, pink mules, the superbloom, paella (homemade or ordered in a restaurant), and Maine. And I’ve never even been to Maine! A friend of mine refuses to wear Nikes, period, after her unfluencer nemesis bought the same shoe in the same colorway she had almost bought at the Net-a-Porter sale.

There’s something satisfying about feeling like you’re the only one who doesn’t think this person is as cool as the rest of the world does. It’s a little like “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” but instead I’m forcing myself to breathe deeply through my rage at a woman who keeps tagging every caftan she wears like she is the queen of sack dresses.

There is clarity in knowing what doesn’t do it for you. The breaking point for me always hinges on the unfluencer’s taste’s not being what she thinks it is. But my being provoked probably has less to do with the narcissism I perceive on the unfluencer’s part than with my own: I’m not as original as I wish to be; my taste is not as interesting and refined as I think it is.

4. Actually, scratch that. The New Word of the Week may be “Narcopath.” Writing for The Outline, Linnie Greene explores “the memeification of mental health.” I had never heard of an Indigo Child either, but I now know that I don’t have one:

Scour Instagram’s explore tab today and it’s apparent that the internet’s obsession with psychology and categorization has only expanded, manifold, a slurry of pastel-colored warning signs of #emotionalvampires among bikini pics and cat photos. Online, everyone can be sorted by emotional type: INFP, #narcissist_survivor, Empath, Hufflepuff. No matter how abstract, a label is a starting point — it’s a role you can play or play against to ward off the confusion of personhood.

The language of therapy is one that millennials and Gen Zers speak fluently, rattling off terminology (from “depression” to “depersonalization”) in a way that might have been stigmatized even 10 years ago. Whereas psychoanalysis was once the province of the elite — or, more recently, those with decent health insurance — start-ups are invading social media to cash in on our malaise in real-time. This leaves us full of both jokes and an earnest desire to figure out why everything is terrible, all the time. Worse: maybe social media addicts like me are so preoccupied with rooting out the psychologically aberrant — the potential harm other people might do or might have done — that we aren’t addressing the realities of our situations…

You won’t find a definition of “emotional vampire” or a “covert narcissist” in the DSM, but both of them have thousands of posts on Instagram. Their definitions, contested depending on who’s doing the defining, are roughly, “life-ruining interpersonal parasite” and, “undercover fiend without a conscience,” respectively. Social media takes what the academy produced and stitches together Frankensteined hybrids like “narcopath,” someone with myriad personality disorders. By pairing psychological terminology with new-age concepts, accounts potentially give users a reason to believe they may have conditions that don’t actually exist…

I can’t help but think it’s comforting to hear we’re not crazy or unjustifiably paranoid; we’re just terrified. Even so, social media is just one more room into which we can lock ourselves, no safer than anywhere else but as quiet and reflective as Narcissus’s forest glen.

5. In humor, Babylon Bee poked the bear with Prodigal Son Kicked Back Out After Old Tweets Surface, which is more trenchant than funny. Reductress issued a breaking “REPORT: Stalking That Girl Online Made You Feel So Much Better.” McSweeney’s put together a pretty funny list of “Big Questions to Ask Your College-Bound Child Before They Leave For School, Couched In Supportive Parenting Language” but my personal favorite was “The Book of Genesis’s Genesis”.

Then God said, “Let them find strife while working on a double concept album” And it was extremely so, for the band bore grudges against Peter Gabriel’s showboating and his massive laser light displays. And they rose up against Peter Gabriel’s authority with cries of “Buttmunch, you cut off my 20-minute guitar solo” and “What’s your DEAL, man??” until at last Peter Gabriel announced he would leave Genesis to spend more time with his family. And God saw that it was good — for they were now truly Genesis.

Almost. Because God, in His infinite wisdom, said, “Let them audition singers, for they know not what they have in their drummer.”

6. Long Read of the Week would have to be “Our New World Without Kith or Kin” by Scott Beauchamp, which traces the intellectual roots of our current loneliness epidemic. Ooof:

[H]owever far back in the dim memory of the human story you might trace the lineage of the drive to sever connection to and responsibility for one another (we can certainly go back at least to Cain), when taken to its logical conclusion the result always seems to be the same: people are transformed into refuse. In his Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino wrote about Leonia, a city which worships trendiness. Every morning the citizens revel in new songs on the radio, new products delivered to their doors, and brand-new fashions in clothing and food. Of course, the hidden god of Leonia is not necessarily the novel, but the discarded. As Calvino writes,

It is not so much by the things that each day are manufactured, sold, bought, that you can measure Leonia’s opulence, but rather by the things that each day are thrown out to make room for the new. So you begin to wonder if Leonia’s true passion is really, as they say, the enjoyment of new things, and not, instead, the joy of expelling, discarding, cleansing itself of a recurrent impurity. The fact is that street cleaners are welcomed like angels.

… Any number of contemporary songs or movies come to mind where the family is seen as something to liberate oneself from in order achieve a deeper contentment and truer sense of self. Few examples exist of art which conveys the horror of the isolated individual, imprisoned by solitary desire. French author Michel Houellebecq might be the rare example of an artist who unflinchingly gazes into the abyss of modern self and, with a cold eye, catches sight of all the ways in which constructing a world composed simply of desire sated and desire thwarted contributes to profound human misery. In what might be his most accomplished novel, The Elementary Particles, Houellebecq directly confronts the failures of 60’s radicalism, particularly where it pertains to so-called sexual liberation:

It is interesting to note that the “sexual revolution” was sometimes portrayed as a communal utopia, whereas in fact it was simply another stage in the historical rise of individualism. As the lovely word “household” suggests, the couple and the family would be the last bastion of primitive communism in liberal society. The sexual revolution was to destroy these intermediary communities, the last to separate the individual from the market. The destruction continues to this day.

7. Let’s end on a considerably more uplifting note: with all due respect to the new pair Baumbach embedded above, my favorite movie trailer this year, hands down, the one for Parallel Love, the documentary about the band Luxury, AKA “the only rock band with a 3/5 majority in the (Orthodox) priesthood”. Doesn’t matter if you don’t like 90s indie rock, this looks rich as can be. We’re hoping to put together a screening:

Strays

  • Very grateful for this review of Seculosity by Sam Guthrie, entitled “When Wells Run Dry.” Speaking of the book, by some stroke of devil magic, Amazon now it at 60% off…!
  • When it comes to law-in-practice, George R.R. Martin has long been a favorite case in point, creatively speaking. Which made his recent interview with The Observer all the more gratifying: “I don’t think [the TV series] was very good for me,” he said. “The very thing that should have speeded me up actually slowed me down. Every day I sat down to write and even if I had a good day … I’d feel terrible because I’d be thinking: ‘My God, I have to finish the book. I’ve only written four pages when I should have written 40.’”
  • Finally, the inside story of the funniest baseball card ever made.