This is the free edition of Rich Text, a newsletter about cultural obsessions from your Internet BFFs Emma and Claire. If you like what you see and hear, consider becoming a paid subscriber. Rich Text is a reader-supported project — no ads or sponsors!
I recently came across a passage of Sally Rooney’s forthcoming novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You, that stopped me short.
Much of the story is told through emails between two dear friends on the brink of 30, Alice and Eileen. During one exchange in the middle of the novel, the women are contemplating the state of beauty, climate change and the world.
“Aren’t we unfortunate babies to be born when the world ended?” writes one of them to the other. “After there was no chance for the planet, and no chance for us. Or maybe it was just the end of one civilisation, ours, and at some time in the future another will take its place. In that case we are standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something.”
I couldn’t stop staring at these words, filled dually with a sense of comfort that I’m not alone in suspecting we are on the precipice of the end of humanity, and a sense of dread that the anxious feeling in my gut might be right. Reading Rooney’s words felt like reading a (perhaps slightly more eloquent) excerpt of the handful of group texts that have been my community lifeline during the Covid pandemic. These threads, filled predominantly with women friends of mine, manage to seamlessly flow from centers of lighthearted banter about new jobs and dinners and baby photos, to sites of emotional triage in the face of rage and terror about flooding and abortion bans and endless wars.
During the nearly two years (!!!!) we’ve been living in pandemic-land, our social worlds have contracted. This has made virtual community all the more important. If group texts were the last documents we left on this earth, they would paint a picture of the bizarre lives we now lead; a dissociative mix of mundane joys and existential horror.
“Once again last night I found myself grateful to have you all on my screen through every terrible disaster we seem unable to get a break from,” wrote one of my friends this morning, after a night of sending us terrifying videos of the rivers that had formed in her neighborhood’s streets.
There is so much to be angry and heartbroken about right now that it feels almost debilitating. The close of a decades-long war and American occupation has left Afghanistan in turmoil and many Afghani women in danger under Taliban rule. The planet is dying because humans destroyed it, and as the window closes for us to do anything, I spent last night staring out the window of my boyfriend’s apartment (and doom-scrolling on Twitter) watching our city flood. In the shadows of night, the Supreme Court allowed the most draconian anti-abortion law in recent history to go into effect in Texas, turning private citizens into bounty hunters and effectively banning access to abortion care throughout the state. (Anyone who has followed the state-level battles over abortion, knew that this was coming after RBG died, but the fact that her replacement dealt Roe v. Wade the death blow remains particularly painful.)
It is an odd sensation to be very much alive and safe, currently inoculated from the worst of the world by privilege and resources, while also feeling, on a gut level, that doom awaits us just around the corner. There are things those of us who are lucky enough to have money and time to spare can do -- we can donate, we can organize, we can fuck with Texas’ anti-abortion tip line.
And we can connect with each other and revel in the communities we have, right here, right now. I woke up today and the sun was shining brighter than it had in days, with none of the humidity that usually accompanies such a forecast at the end of the summer. The breeze was cool on my face and the coffee shop around the corner was bustling.
Today you’re alive on this gorgeous earth. Better soak up the sunshine while it lasts.
Before we get to recommendations, a call to action. Below are a handful of organizations that are worth supporting if you have the means:
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We’ve been watching…
My dad is an English professor. My brother is an English professor. I wanted to be an English professor, but I heard the job market was collapsing, so I went into journalism instead. (Lmao @ me.) Anyway! Naturally, I am currently watching Netflix's "The Chair," which is set in the cash-strapped, crumbling English department of a fictional elite university. A gloriously curly-mopped, utterly irresistible Sandra Oh plays the new department chair, who quickly finds her plans to modernize and overhaul the staid, musty program thwarted by bigoted colleagues and philistine administrators. I don't love this show without qualification -- the central cancel culture plot line strikes me as dumb and disdainful to students, especially students of color, for one thing -- but it does make me feel crushing pangs of nostalgia for my years as an English major. There's lots of tweed. There's a flirtation between Oh's character and her brilliant but fucked-up colleague, played by Jay Duplass, often over piles of dense-looking books. As Brandon Taylor pointed out in his wonderful newsletter Sweater Weather, the show doesn't offer the sharp critique of the modern academy that it gestures toward -- just vibes. And I can't deny I enjoy the vibes. -Claire
I am so solidly the target audience for Ryan Murphy’s “American Crime Story: Impeachment,” which premieres on FX next week that it almost feels obvious that I would be enthralled by it. Nevertheless, I am. The series, which explores the circumstances that led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, centers on the women who alternately facilitated and were caught up in the political firestorm: Linda Tripp (Sarah Paulson), Monica Lewinsky (Beanie Feldstein) and Paula Jones (Annaleigh Ashford). It’s a show that revels in the viewers’ likely discomfort and dread, because we know what’s coming — and what has happened in the following decades. Lewinsky herself is a producer on the show, which makes the lens by which we, the viewers, see these women all the more fascinating. Definitely worth a watch. -Emma
We’ve been reading…
Maggie Shipstead's Great Circle, a half-historical, half-contemporary epic novel about two women: a daring female pilot who makes a name for herself in the first half of the 20th century, and a famous actor who portrays her in a biopic nearly a hundred years later. The protagonists are spiky, ambitious women, ill at ease in a world that expects them to be sweet and demure. Shipstead writes the kind of sentences you want to swim around in -- rolling, luxurious waves of language -- and she paints her characters and their respective worlds with vivid detail. (A section entitled "History of Missoula, Montana, c. 13,000 b.c.-February 1927" left me particularly breathless.) -Claire
The new Sally Rooney. As you can tell from the mini-essay in this newsletter, Beautiful World, Where Are You is a novel that is sitting with me, and I suspect will be for a long time. It’s a gorgeous slow burn that uses a largely undramatic story to explore big ideas about the crumbling, gorgeous world millennials inherited. -Emma
We’ve been buying…
I got a little carried away with how it's almost fall and got these high-rise tapered pants from Madewell, which I'm so obsessed with I almost don't want to wear them for the first time in case something should happen to them. Usually I find more relaxed-fit pants unflattering, but the snug waist and subtle taper on these is perfection. -Claire