constellations #2: strangers' windows; taco bell travelogue

Hello again.

  • One of the most delightful things I have seen recently is this little web app called WindowSwap where you click a button and you’re shown the view from someone else’s window, somewhere in the world; with any luck, it’s not just somewhere in the world that you, the viewer, are not but also a place that feels far. At least that’s the itch it scratched for me.

  • It’s not like I had some great travel plans for the summer and it’s even true I recently relocated for an indeterminate amount of time but I feel just as restless as anyone.

  • I opened the WindowSwap app for the first time in the afternoon in the middle of the week last week, feeling burnt out. Several people retweeted it into my feed and the language describing it was intriguingly vague. I clicked through a few windows. Several were in Germany; one was in Michigan; one was in Singapore. Eventually I landed on one in Bangalore, India — a narrow outdoor hallway framed by blue pillars and open windows, stuffed with healthy-looking plants, staring in the face of a friendly Beagle. Another dog, black and white and about the same size as the Beagle, sat behind him. They were so calm and happy. I gasped with joy. I stared at the video until my blood pressure lowered.

  • In the summers of 2013 and 2014 I traveled from the seventh of July to the third of August. A coincidence.

  • Most days lately I’ve worked in view of a window into my parents’ backyard. They have a pool, and it was cluttered with algae when I arrived; my sister has tried to clean it, as have several professionals, but the algae is stubborn. On the day I open WindowSwap, the coldest day in weeks, it’s a clear blue.

  • The dog comes back, out from behind the camera, trots down the hallway, turns around and takes a seat at the end of the hall, looking into the camera. He hears something; he trots back down the hall, disappears. I leave the window open as I read emails.

  • In 2017 I traveled for work for all of May and some of April. I went to ten cities and I had never seen most of them before. I wasn’t that good at my job but I had fun. In Seattle I drank good coffee and got lonely. Outside San Francisco I cried on the job but drove home with a huge smile on my face. In Chicago my friend and I were given more free beer than we could reasonably drink. In Austin I rented a car for the first time and drove back and forth on the highway. When May was over I felt exhilarated and exhausted and never wanted to do it again and also knew I’d do a much better job if I ever did it again and maybe I wouldn’t be so exhausted or I would be exhausted but it would be the exhaustion of a job well-done instead of the exhaustion of “a learning experience for everyone involved” which I’m pretty sure is how I described my job performance to my boss afterwards.

  • When I heard that Taco Bell is getting rid of all the potato items on its menu I thought about a night in July 2015, the first and only time I have had a Taco Bell spicy potato taco. It was the second night of a road trip. We were on our way from a music festival to a house in Grand Rapids. I had harbored what I thought was a classic vegetarian’s aversion to Taco Bell until Kevin, longtime non-meat-eater and person whom I had only met three days prior, let me in on the secret of spicy potato tacos. Thrilling! On the way to Taco Bell we played Robyn so loud in the van that my throat hurt from singing along. Matt ate so many tacos he threw up. (In his defense it probably was the sun and the beer that day, not the tacos.) That night we slept on the floor in a friend-of-a-friend’s house and woke up in the morning with no real destination, “maybe the Black Hills?” In those days a kind of freedom seemed to crack open inside me and stretch out towards the following few weeks, through the Rockies and out West, down the California coastline and back into the desert. It even followed me back home.

  • That day one year prior, Matt found Loveless on vinyl in Berlin. He was shocked and thrilled, and carried it around in a backpack for three weeks. When we got home, we realized it was a bootleg. Of course it was a bootleg! We didn’t care.

  • Once in a bookstore we heard a poet, in introducing a poem, describe a yoga class where the teacher instructed him to “move the back of your heart toward the front of your heart” and we all laughed and then when the poet got to that line in the poem we all laughed again even though it wasn’t really funny in that context.

  • Later on the road trip we went to Portland, Ore. A friend lived there, in a real house with a garden, which amazed all of us who were living in small apartments in New England. We did laundry and ate vegetables. I drank a bunch of cheap beer and argued with boys about feminism. I have been thinking about Portland a lot this week. I have been thinking about Washington, D.C. too. Hope and justice are forms of travel.

  • Yesterday on the phone I referred to my brother, who’s 23, as being in his mid-20s, which he hated to hear me say. “Oh come on,” I said. “I was having the time of my life when I was your age! Only I had no idea because I was miserable.” I guess that’s what that age is like. Reminiscing is a form of time travel.

Here’s a short playlist of songs that make me think of my 2015 road trip:

Thanks for reading. I hope you move the back of your heart towards the front of your heart this week!

Until next time,


P.S. Thanks to everyone who replied to my last newsletter, that felt really nice!