Volume Nine: Antibiotic Baby (& The Queen Midas)
tl;dr: Couched Expectations, Rough As Guts Interview Attempts (Kidding!) & Four Other Loose Units
Come in, sit down. No, not there. There. On the couch. Don’t worry, in an incredible display of character development not often seen in inanimate objects, it’s much more comfortable than it used to be.
When the couch arrived last year, I sat upon it as you’re about to. I shifted, wondering why it wasn’t quite as soft to lean on as I’d hoped.
“I suppose I’m not very good at buying couches.”
Like a fault of a loved one or a problematic-but-important-to-my-childhood celebrity, I accepted it as-is. Eventually, I’d buy pillows.
Much later, I swung my arm around the back of the couch, like an archetypal middle school boy on a sitcom second date and realized something important.
“Why is the back of the couch more comfortable than the front of the couch?”
I sat with that for a few minutes.
The couch had arrived, “assembled in reverse,” as the help desk helpfully phrased it. The cushioned side faced the wall instead of my back. It had taken me a month to notice.
While waiting for repairs, the couch became a conversational piece, anointed, special in its incorrectness. I almost asked them not to fix it.
“It’s more interesting to have a backward couch than to have a comfortable couch.”
There’s often something lost when you default back to factory settings.
I’m often transfixed by things like the backward couch or my right middle finger, which was infected for awhile. I liked staring at it, as it ballooned with pus and wasted blood and bacteria. I couldn’t stop pressing down to feel its ugliness, white hot, broken and shameful. Honest in its shame.
The antibiotics eventually kicked in, but there was something terrifying to me about it healing again.
People look for pretty things in museums; we lionize them in mausoleums; we attempt to capture them in photographs; we desperately search for them in mirrors and in what is being mirrored back at us by other people. But pretty isn’t the same as memorable. And it certainly isn’t the same as important.
I can only remember a handful of sunsets. Of those, what I really remember is the red and orange bouncing off of someone else’s dehydrated, sunburnt face.
Back to the couch.
The repair person came. I adjusted to the new reality of my living room. And now you’re here, as comfortable as you can be on a couch that’s built correctly. Despite my fears, it has retained its interesting backstory while… admittedly being better for my back. I can type to you now because my finger eventually healed.
For this edition of It’ll Be Nice To Meet You Tomorrow, I spoke with someone who has a lot of practice curating and capturing honest, come-as-you-are, arrive-as-life-has-shaped-you beauty. You’ll hear from him in the section, “Amber trapped.” As a treat, read that part of the neuesletter in an Australian accent. We’re going international, baby!
Then, we’ll wrap this show up with a quick story about someone’s dishonest pursuit of beauty (or… something akin to it) with, “Carpet burned,” and everyone’s favorite section, “Four things.” Onward.
Amber trapped—in a good way.
The first time my life overlapped with Australian portrait photographer Jesse Graham’s, our eyes met while watching intestines being fed through a projector. It was a communion among strangers where horrified amusement stood in for wafers.
Fortunately for us, the horrific scene we shared was on a screen at a movie night (which you really must go to). Cut to us screaming with delight a few days later, however, upon realizing a shared love for Australian writer Patrick Lenton's tweets about culture and Skyrim.
Jesse was in New York for two months this fall and at the time had recently completed his 1000 Portrait Project. It took him 6.5 years to take photos of 1000 people. The bio he wrote for it explains it best.
“1000 portraits of people I meet.”
Yes, you read that right. He had conversations with and took photos of ONE THOUSAND PEOPLE. Perfect neuesletter fare. So, I interviewed him immediately upon making his acquaintance and… sat on the files for months, incapable of editorializing. The problem? Jesse went from being someone I met when I first interviewed him to one of my best friends in the subsequent weeks.
It’s easier to write about one hypothetical tomorrow with a stranger than to capture endless assured ones.
Want to move into my sandcastle? There are vacancies.
When I began this neuesletter, I wrote about escaping the amber trap and what living in pursuit of doing that could be like. At that point in my life, it was comforting that nothing was intended to be amber; everything was fluid, new, inconsequential.
I was rediscovering both a city and the joy of being alone in public spaces. That gave me the power of being someone different to everyone I met, as did being a people-pleaser, as did — on some level — holding an intrinsic disdain for the particular immovable-but-hidden self that lives between my cheekbones.
Operating within New York turned that power into something… else. More potent. More promising. It made me believe in building a sandcastle kind of future with everyone I met, with turrets and a moat and everything. Then, I’d be saved from committing to an architectural style by wind, water and time.
Back to Jesse.
So, with that as the backdrop to how I had been thinking about this publication before, I interviewed Jesse about the 1000 Portrait Project, expecting him to eventually dissolve into stranger-dom. As I looked and read and talked through the project with him, I was struck by how empathy-centric the entire enterprise was — he looked beyond models and told the stories of people’s lives — whether he had known them for years or seen them on the street that day.
Throughout the years of working on the project, some people he photographed got sick, some felt they’d changed beyond recognition and asked for their photo to be retaken, some asked to not give him any information about themselves at all and some have become relationships that are ongoing and beautiful in their intensified meaning. He granted any request they had, often asking, “Is this still you?” if a significant amount of time had elapsed between when he took a portrait and posted it.
What was the funniest conversation you had throughout the 1000 portraits?
“There was this guy I stopped on the street in Melbourne… I was like, ‘Oh I love your coat, would you mind if I took your photo?’ and he’s like, “Yes. But, I’m not going to give you my name. I don’t want to see the photo. And this is the only contact we’ll have. Take a couple photos and then go, but I don’t want to know what you’re using it for.’
And I asked, ‘Can I get your email?’ And he said, ‘No. Nothing. You can have nothing more than the photo.”
In short, Jesse is uniquely good at meeting people where they’d like to be met. With me, instead of becoming a memorable stranger who I keep up with on Instagram, Jesse became one of the few people who has seen every piece of me there is. Nothing was impermanent. Everything became amber before I noticed I was stuck. I was known and received at a time when I needed a refresher on what that meant.
That’s why his work is beautiful — he excels at being extraordinarily intentional with when and how he moves through people’s lives.
Do you have any advice for connecting with strangers?
“How cool is it to talk to people about the things they love and the things they carry with them? Whether that’s stories or whether that’s objects… The ultimate piece of advice I’d have for anyone is to be inquisitive…
Look for the things that make people’s eyes light up.”
The interview happened early into our friendship, and we — the two of us — changed after it. I think that the center of the Venn Diagram of the two faces pursing their lips at you in the below photo is a mutual fascination with discovery through other people.
I’ve always writhed at the idea of being known. When you’re known, people get to see that you’re as ugly as my infected finger was. Or, at least that’s why I’ve shied away from it. The people who have stuck around are the ones who shoved my face against a mirror, looked at the smudges my flesh left behind and said that they liked the patterns I had made.
One of many things I’ve discovered through Jesse (my therapist loves Jesse) is that it’s probably time to stop requiring the people who want to care about me to shove.
The good news? He can be your Australian friend too.
Unlike yours truly with her sketchy-at-best publication schedule, Jesse has a lot planned. Follow the 1000 Portrait Project on Instagram as he races to post the last few hundred photos, take a gander at his website, send him a note about art and check out his latest pursuit: Relics, in which he photographs people with objects of importance to them.
Oh, and I almost forgot the most important thing…
What’s the Australianism you want everyone reading the neuesletter to know?
“I think my favorite one is ‘rough as guts,’ because it makes sense—you don’t need to unpack what it means—everyone has felt it.”
I hope reading this edition so far hasn’t been rough as guts. Either way, let me know.
We opened Volume Nine with an inanimate object that had the decency to work on its goddamn self. We shall end with an animate object of my discontent that exists without hope for any character development at all.
The scene: an indoor-outdoor bar celebration. We spent most of the time ping-ponging between dancing inside, so the energetic among us could let off steam, and shivering outside, so the smokers could smoke and the easily overstimulated (me) could take deep drags of the comparative quiet.
There was a metaphorical moat you had to traverse in order to go between the two spaces, however. When you walked outside into a narrow alley between bar and courtyard, you had to walk a few steps on top of a rolled up, living-room-size carpet.
At the time, it seemed like a navigable safety hazard.
I remember my ankle almost misaligning as I stomped, mountain-goat-like, over the surface to catch up to the crowd, wondering why the carpet was allowed to be there.
A few days later, we discovered it was something much worse.
The carpet had been breathing the whole time. Or, if you’re being pedantic about it, a living, real, alive (and I’m talking real alive) man with blood and bones and everything was breathing inside the carpet.
He had rolled himself inside without telling anyone.
His name is Kevin Carpet.
He has habitually done this for years. This is how I felt about it when the-too-cool-to-be-my-friend-but-is???? Johanna sent this article that explains what was going on:
As I am markedly Not Fun, my main fixation point is that no one thought to tell us before we embarked on an evening of macabre carpet rides. We had walked and run and embraced and stumbled and smoked and talked and laughed while stepping on his body for hours.
The only reason we found out? Someone we knew saw him unroll.
Mr. Carpet claims to be a performance artist, but… that does not make it better for me. I do not believe the man inside the carpet will ever change his ways, but he certainly changed me in one small way: I learned that I strongly believe one should always be asked for consent before stepping on a human body at a Brooklyn bar. That might be the magic of Kevin Carpet.
There’s no deeper meaning here. I stepped on an alive human body this year without knowing it, and so can you. Now let me tell you about four other things…
Something mold: In case you were wondering this whole time, the subject line was an inside joke with myself. One of the songs in my rotation right now is, “Mold Baby (& the Queen Midas).” Listen to get in on the joke. In other textured news, also check out David Bowie’s sea slug outfits. (S/o to friend & coworker from my real person job Jerrick, who shared this with me and said to point out that I’m the only coworker he could send this to.)
Something new-to-you: Come to the Under Scene Film Night at Fiction — it’s on most Sundays & this issue quite literally would not have landed in your inbox without its host, Ryland, helping me put together its puzzle pieces.
Something radiant: Big red couch. And Kevin Carpet’s more ethical (IMHO) compatriot: I’m A Human… Carpet. (S/o to the also-radiant Jaime for the share.)
Something not to eschew: “Ice Man, alley my oop!” The next time you plan to go thrifting, make sure you take a gander at, “Kevin Buys A Jacket,” (no relation to Kevin Carpet) for inspiration. It’s written by dearest pal of the neuesletter (& occasional adversary of its author) Henry. Read it. Share it. Tell him you like it. Then, check out this funny as hell piece called, “A Dating Profile of a Gothic Novel’s Love Interest,” by funny as hell friend of the neuesletter Erika. Read it. Share it. Tell her you like it.
As always, it’ll be nice to meet you tomorrow,
— N. Graney I
P.S. Lucky penny for your thoughts? I’ve been thinking about the childhood horror flick Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey because it comes out next week. Send me whatever your brain’s been occupied with, and I’ll give you a cent for your two cents.
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One time my downstairs neighbor left me a pink, lined Post-it note laced with smiley faces and probable arsenic asking me to stop “jumping and stomping” during the workday. Stomping made sense, but I don’t usually jump before 6 p.m.
I was framed by the two (or 17, if you include the multitudes) little boys next door. They are made of jumps and stomps and screams, just as I am made of longing stares and screams suppressed. I put the note on my refrigerator. I hope they’ll make all the noise they want to for a little bit longer. Do you remember what that feels like? I don’t.
If you happen to be that neighbor, snooping because I named my wifi, “nice2meetyou.substack.com” please just subscribe and leave them alone.