It’s me, Suchandrika Chakrabarti!
I’m now on Clubhouse - find me @suchandrika
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It’s been nearly a month since I last wrote! In that time, it feels as though our lives have become physically smaller and smaller - certainly in London, and in lots of other parts of the UK. The hope of the new year is still kind of there, but it’s being squashed down by the sameness of 2021. The end still seems a long way off.
I’m trialling a new name for the newsletter, courtesy of New Yorker staff writer Rachel Syme (if you get to her thread fast, she might invent one for you too):
I really like it! What do you think? Hit reply or the button below to let me know!
This very timely New Yorker piece really hit home for me, and it’s where I’ve taken today’s subject line from: What if you could do it all over? by Joshua Rothman.
He explores this idea: “We have unlived lives for all sorts of reasons: because we make choices; because society constrains us; because events force our hand; most of all, because we are singular individuals, becoming more so with time.”
I’ve noticed lot of people close to me, and across the internet, now making the big choices that the pandemic has slowed down, but not entirely stopped: falling in love, getting married, having children, moving house, changing jobs, breaking up.
The enforced confinement of lockdown has given some of us a lot of time to think, and feel as though life’s passing us by. It’s gone on long enough now that there are those who have felt compelled to act, to grab hold of time and make it bend to their own will, to stop the potential unlived lives from floating away. I admire that attitude.
I’m not there yet myself (but I do have my moments of panic). Right now, I’m plumbing the depths of the past and using that in my writing, the other arena in life where we can chart the roads not taken, the decisions made one way that we regret, the people who exited our lives without us realising at the time.
“A whole art form—the novel—has been dedicated to exploring this dynamic,” Joshua Rothman writes in What if you could do it all over? “Novelists often show us people who, trapped by circumstances, struggle to live their ‘real’ lives.” He goes on to add: “I find it easier to imagine different lives for others. My mother grew up in Malaysia, then immigrated to America in the nineteen-seventies, as a college student.”
It’s true that if your parents are immigrants, and could have ended up citizens of another place (mine considered the US and Australia before I was born), you grow up knowing that these other choices could have made you a very different person. The roads not taken feel vivid and close by, those other lives that could have been yours almost within reach.
The pandemic is a kind of a leveller, in that the whole world has experienced lockdown, but of course some countries have rid themselves of Covid much faster than others. Our national responses to the pandemic haven’t been the same. Imagine if my parents (and yours) had chosen New Zealand once upon a time - we’d probably be frolicking outside right now… but they didn’t. My parents stuck with London, and so have I.
It’s natural to think back on the Sliding Doors moments of our lives in this situation. “Like facets in a jewel, such moments seem to put our lives into prismatic relief,” writes Rothman. “They make us feel the precariousness and the specificity of the way things are.” We can find meaning in those moments and all their unused potential, and know that there will be more moments like these in our futures, more chances to shoot for the moon.
(found via the excellent Garbage Day newsletter)
(if you keep seeing Hotdog Guy popping up on Twitter, here’s why)
Parenting changed dramatically during the 20th century
Laurie Penny’s sweet essay on surprising herself by getting married in a pandemic
These Precious Days by Ann Patchett - I can’t describe it, but it’s one of the best reading experiences I’ve had for a while
Poetry Is Not a Luxury on Instagram is a daily source of joy, sadness and inspiration, I can’t stop re-posting to my stories
This brilliant website looks at New York in a much more intuitive way than any guide I’ve ever come across. Wow I miss travel
I’m on this Rise & Shine panel about promoting your podcast, alongside industry legends Imriel Morgan and Daniel Page, and we’ll be moderated by Megan Hayward of Radio Spark Sunderland. The event’s free and starts at 7pm GMT on Monday 25th January - just sign up on the Eventbrite
I’m on this week’s Culture Unwrapped pod, in which we look at how the arts might be different after the pandemic ends…
I’m also on the latest episode of The Week Unwrapped pod covers the potential green transformation of post-Covid cities; robots possibly developing empathy; and the pros and cons of Covid vaccine nationalism.
Now available online: My Reprezentology Journal essay on freelancing and a lot of other stuff
Thank you so much for reading!
If you enjoy my work & fancy buying me a virtual coffee, I’d be delighted (and will hopefully experience a virtual caffeine rush):