Hospital Diaries Pt. II
The year we all lost some freedom of movement.
This is the continuation of last week’s hospital diary on movement. Read part one first (if you haven’t already), they flow better together.
I’m mostly having nightmares in the hospital, thankfully the sedatives make them foggy upon waking. But I’ve had one good dream I remember—in it, I’m back in my high school dance class. Make no mistake, dancing back then wasn’t uninhibited, it involved tightly composed choreography. The goal was to make an obsessively controlled sequence look intuitive. Once my muscle memory had the movement down, I could actually dance it—I felt free.
When I went to University, I replaced dancing with repetitive, mechanical movement at the gym (running, weights)—unsurprisingly, it was around this time when I developed mental health issues. It’s only now I see how therapeutic it was to express through movement. Where I previously used movement to feel, I started using movement to numb; what once gave me freedom, became a means of control.
As I got older, I found freedom in bigger moves instead—the constant shifting of environment. I took on travel writing so I could always be on the road. Sitting still made me restless; if I was in one place for too long, it meant I was missing opportunities elsewhere. It took COVID-19 for me to realize how much I took my ease of international movement for granted. Without a driver’s license or the ability to travel, I found myself confined to my neighbourhood for months.
Until I replaced my old bike this summer with a light race bike. My first ride was the first time I had moved faster than a slow jog in five months. I caught a tailwind and it was pure euphoria; I was like a dog sticking its head out the window of a speeding car, tongue flapping in the breeze on a sunny day.
A few weeks later I got a flat tire. While walking home from the bike shop empty-handed, a car sped by with a golden retriever gleefully leaning out the passenger seat window. It reminded me of the joy I felt on my first ride, and how quickly my ease of movement was taken away again. I realized, in a way, I’m like that dog in the passenger seat. My ease of movement isn’t dependent on my body, it relies on machinery, and a person with the know-how to operate it. My “freedom” of movement has always been an illusion.
I’ve never regretted not having a driver’s license as much as I have this year. This summer, I enviously watched the road trip make a comeback. Cars liberated people to get out of dense cities on weekends, to camp or isolate at their cabins. Those without cars saw their world shrink. It made me think of how thrilling the advent of car travel in the mid-20th century must have been; how the ability to travel by car changed our relationship to movement.
“By the late 1940s, the roads had been paved, 100,000 gas stations had been built [in the United States],” writes Benjamin Lorr in The Secret Life of Groceries. “Alongside the remaking of our roads, towns, and markets, the automobile was remaking our minds. Travel was happening in an entirely new way, and this would fundamentally change the way people saw the world, what they expected from their lives.”
Airplanes liberated our relationship to movement even further. “In 1965, over 80 percent of Americans had still not set foot on a plane,” writes Orr. “Within a year, the 747 had cut the cost of flying in half and the skies were democratized.” Before COVID-19, an estimated eight million people flew every day. For those with the financial means, the modern world was their oyster. When I wanted to stretch my mind, to feel the freedom of movement, I could book a flight and be somewhere new tomorrow.
Now—between the stale, claustrophobic air, my sedentary existence, eating bland food with plastic cutlery, and constant lethargy—I feel like I’m on a never-ending plane ride. I fantasize about the airplane meals that were more appetizing than this hospital food; about the long haul flights that weren’t nearly as brutal as I thought they were at the time—at least they carried the promise that I would experience the freedom of movement upon arrival. Now, even if we hop on a plane, there is no guarantee we’ll be able to freely explore in our new destination. And here in the hospital, unable to move, I feel trapped; I’m forced to reimagine my world, and my ability to transverse it.
How do we adapt when our world’s shrink? How does living in isolation change us?
Part three of my hospital diaries, next week.
CEO Of Hologenix, Seth Casden, On Why Performance Fabrics Are The Future Of Athleisure for Forbes. Prior to this interview, the extent of my knowledge on how infrared technology can enhance our performance and recovery was limited to infrared saunas and yoga classes. Now, infrared is being woven into our textiles (from our clothing to our sheets) and performance fabric company Celliant is leading the way. I can’t wait to see how this kind of sportswear innovation influences an already over-saturated athleisure market.
Rarely do I read nonfiction front-to-back, but The Secret Life of Groceries was so engrossing I couldn’t put it down. While I mainly enjoyed Benjamin Lorr’s commentary on consumer culture, I ended up equally engrossed in the undercover missions he takes to better understand the global commodity chain: from tracing the horrific journeys of trafficked migrants in Myanmar and Thailand’s shrimp industry to driving with truckers who describe their job as “sharecropping on wheels.”
Michael Pollen’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma similarly interrogates food sourcing, but I prefer Lorr’s approach of using the American supermarket to reveal deeper truths about us. He balances in-depth character-building (I felt like I really got to know the Joe behind Trader Joe’s) with big-picture analysis, without the writing ever becoming dry.
“Where historically food signified a few narrow ideals, primarily around wealth and social standing, now it went impossibly wide, offering a blitz of expressive possibilities from our relationship to our bodies to our relationship with the natural world to every aspirational desire in between: thin, muscular, compassionate, worldly, closer to our ancestors, unique from our kin, food allowed us to advertise who we wanted to be—who we desperately believed we were—all while simply meeting our vital needs, side-slipping those larger consumptive cliches.”
🗽You know I fiend any NYT op-ed about grief, but I’m loving this one by Meghan Markle for her description of NYC—
“New Yorkers live out their personal lives in public spaces. ‘We love in the city, we cry in the street, our emotions and stories there for anybody to see.’”
🛀 What do we lose when we can’t share spaces with strangers? Leslie Jamison writes about learning how to feel pleasure in public baths,
“We don’t just lose the tribal solace of company, but the reminder that there are seven billion other ways to be alive besides the particular way I am alive; that there are countless other ways to be lonely besides the particular ways I am lonely.”
🥾 Latria Graham wrote a viral essay on the whitewashing of the outdoors in 2018 (a must-read). In the 2 years since, she’s avoided responding to the countless nonwhite readers who reached out asking for advice. She addresses them now in this painful, heartfelt letter.
🧂 Megan Palmer reminds us to check our permanent assumptions.
“It feels uncomfortable to re-inspect your stories, especially if you happen to be a white person who does not come from money. I did this all by myself, I used to think. I worked hard and made sacrifices, but the systems I was navigating were designed for me.”
🧙🏻♀️“For as long as there have been stages and screens, disability and disfigurement have been used as visual shorthand for evildoing.” The Witches, starring a disfigured Anne Hathaway, is the latest movie to rely on the offensive storytelling trope.
💰 Anti-capitalist millennials are giving their inheritance away.
“Millennials will be the recipients of the largest generational shift of assets in American history — the Great Wealth Transfer, as finance types call it. Tens of trillions of dollars are expected to pass between generations in just the next decade.”
🇨🇳 On the complexity of the question “Where are you from?”
🥘 I used to think I travelled because of the food but after reading this personal essay by Noah Galuten, I realize it was more about the experience that came with it.
🍌 Maybe we can’t eat around the world right now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t discover the comfort foods of other cultures.
🤳Kim Kierkegaardashian’s take on before-times selfies. “Loss and change are features of our existence—features, not bugs, as our Silicon Valley overlords might put it, the same overlords who coaxed us to memorialize our every living moment on cell-phone cameras in the first place.”
I’m midway through season one of Enlightened (HBO, Crave), what I would argue is one of the most underrated shows of the 2010s. Laura Dern plays Amy, a corporate woman who finds “enlightenment” at a treatment centre in Hawaii after having a mental breakdown at work. The two season series is about her struggle to readjust back to “normal” life after rehab.
Each episode feels like a mini-indie movie; the emotional range packed into less than 30 minutes is impressive. One moment I’m tearing up during a humanistic montage, the next I’m laughing at the contrast between newly hopeful, bubbly Amy and the cold, cynical people in her life.
But where the show really hits home for me is in its subtle interrogation of the question—can we ever find happiness? Themes of wellness, mental illness, and privilege percolate in the background, making this almost ten-year-old series feel timely as ever. If you haven’t watched it, please do, and tell me what you think.
“We have so many little lifetimes that we live, our geography can make clearer distinctions between those lifetimes,” says Chanel Miller on The Cut podcast.
The world has seemingly ground to a halt, and yet there is a surprising amount of movement. Why is everyone moving? Can we become new selves in a new place? How do we remember the cities we live in? This episode of The Cut podcast explores these questions.
“We can’t escape the old versions of ourselves in our old locations, only build upon and around them,” says host Avery Trufelman. Miller responds, “Trauma resides in us, it will make room for itself even if you’ve changed your location.” As the old adage goes, “everywhere you go, there you are.”