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Stumbling Through the Tunnel

Today in 'What Now': Making it through the last lingering stages of the pandemic. PLUS: Group Chat.

Enrico Strocchi

This is the regular Wednesday edition of What Now, featuring our Group Chat mailbag and more. It usually only goes to our Steward-tier subscribers, but we’re sending it to all of you as part of our Birthday Week celebrations. What Now also features in-depth interviews (check out this week’s with New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie), Rafi’s weekly ‘Man, What the Hell?’ roundup, and more. If you would like to get it every week, not just this week, click the subscribe button below and sign up to our Steward tier. Subscriptions start at just $10 a month Thanks for your continued support of Discourse Blog!


Last Thursday, we had a round of oral histories and more to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the day that the United States and its institutions began taking COVID very seriously. I didn’t read any of them because I, and you, lived through that day and are still living through this. It’ll be important for the historical record, but right now, I don’t need the reminder. (Ditto for literature and art about this time, as my fellow former Splinter night editor Rebecca Fishbein put it.) 

The last time I saw my parents was December 2019. I left their home in Delaware completely unaware of the hell that the next year would bring. For the past year, I’ve had to basically silo off the sentimental part of my brain and try my best to ignore the fact that I couldn’t see them for fear of killing them. And I count myself as lucky; I didn’t have to deal with our hellish unemployment system, my girlfriend and I both work from home, and my parents and everyone in my extended family stayed healthy throughout the year. It’s still a burden to carry, though—to know you’re missing out on valuable time with the people you love and not being able to do anything about it. And keeping this all bottled up, I learned the hard way and with the help of anti-anxiety medication, was probably not the best way to deal with it. Aleks was right, the pandemic has fucked up all of our brains, and maybe in my particular case exposed some long-standing issues that needed to be addressed. 

But last Thursday was also pretty good. I found out that day that my dad was able to schedule his first shot, which means both my parents will be fully vaccinated by mid-April. I made the appointment for my own first vaccine dose and received it earlier this week. And last week the CDC put out guidance saying fully vaccinated people can gather indoors, which seems like further confirmation that with any luck I’ll be able to give my parents a hug soon. 

And so last Thursday in the middle of work, I lost my shit at my desk and cried for 15 minutes? 20 minutes? I don’t know man, it was a long time. It turns out that carrying a year’s worth of longing, frustration, fear, anger and more is not exactly optimal, and simultaneously feeling real hope for the first time in a long time is an overwhelming emotion to feel.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this except to say: if you’re like me and you’ve been struggling with how to feel about the “light at the end of the tunnel,” it’s alright to be conflicted. We will be dealing with the aftermath of this horror show for the rest of our lives, so for right now just let yourself feel it if you need to, whatever it may be. Let’s get on with some questions.

—Paul


Send your questions to whatnow@discourseblog.com

A Very Nice Dog asks: “Given your mention of Fugazi: Please talk about your feelings on The Nation of Ulysses.”

I went through two distinct phases of my musical fandom where Nation of Ulysses was on my periphery. The first was when I thought Refused was the most profound band to ever exist, and the second was when I got into Fugazi and Rites of Spring and tried to consume as much of the Dischord catalog as I possibly could in order to become the most annoying version of myself. But I didn’t really “get” The Nation of Ulysses until a few years ago, when I gave 13-Point Program to Destroy America another shot and really liked it. If I had to make a playlist of my favorite songs Dischord’s put out, “Diptheria” and “Look Out! Soul Is Back” would be right up there.

Despite that, I still haven’t really dug into Plays Pretty for Baby or The Embassy Tapes, or any of the other bands Ian Svenonious has been in, so any and all recommendations are welcome. 

Florida Man asks: “What is the worst generally available dessert?”

I mostly can’t stand the taste of coconut, so let’s go with coconut cream pie. Get that shit out of here. 👎

James asks: “What’s the single most destructive piece of fiction created in the past century?”

This might sound like a copout but my initial instinct is Atlas Shrugged. It defined the post-Goldwater, pre-Trump conservative movement more than any other collection of written words with the possible exception of God and Man at Yale, and Trump’s Twitter feed replacing Atlas Shrugged as required reading for Paul Ryan’s staff was a pretty positive development for the world. What’s funny to me is imagining what the next conservative intellectual “novel” will be. Ben Shapiro’s True Allegiance was proof the vast majority of these people not only can’t write or think for shit but also have zero creative bones in their body, so it’s worth asking if this is even possible or if the book that defines the next generation of the right is just going to be The Collected Works of Racist Ricky Vaughn


— This piece by Jacob Silverman about the aforementioned horrible unemployment system and how to fix it is definitely worth a read. 

— I’ve been watching a ton of Survivor over the past several months and really enjoyed this interview with someone who works for Dream Team, which does the challenge test runs, that Laura Wagner did last month for Defector

— Woke up this morning, got some gabagool

— Douglas Williams at Strikewave, on how Virginia Democrats’ action (and inaction) to reform Virginia’s labor laws are miserably failing workers in their state

— Alexandre de Santi and Rafael Moro Martins wrote a great explainer for The Intercept on the reinstatement of Lula’s right to run for political office and how it could shape next year’s presidential election. 

— I’ll leave you this week with this video, which makes me feel absolutely insane. And stay tuned for Man, What the Hell?! on Friday.