My Semester of Rest and Relaxation

The Coronavirus Edition

Go to a hot yoga class! Try a new face mask. Have you gone on a juice cleanse? There’s a new mindfulness app you could download. Meditation is in. CBD is great for helping you relax.

For all its consumerist charms, wellness culture often glosses over one of the most redeeming and simplest forms of self-care: a good night’s worth of sleep. Or, if you’re the narrator of Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, a year’s worth of sleep.

The narrator goes unnamed, but we learn enough about her through Moshfegh’s wry writing. She’s skinny, blonde, beautiful, WASPy, a Columbia grad, an art history aficionado and rich beyond belief due to both her parents dying during her senior year of college. Now 26, she lives alone in an Upper East Side apartment, which she can afford despite being unemployed (she got laid off from her job in a high-class art gallery, which displays ~subversive~ works like taxidermied dogs). She has an older on-and-off boyfriend, Trevor, who’s emotionally abusive and a best friend, Reva, who she can’t stand. All this is to say that she sticks out like a sore thumb despite technically fitting into New York City high society in the summer of 2000, which Moshfegh paints as shiny and bright.

So she decides to hibernate for a year, aided by the absolute worst psychiatrist, Dr. Tuttle, who prescribes her every drug in the book and then some (Moshfegh makes up some, including Infermiterol, the ultimate downer). “Nothing else could ever bring me such pleasure, such freedom, the power to feel and move and think and imagine, safe from the miseries of my waking consciousness,” she says of sleep, preferring its shallowness and nuance to the existential-pain-inducing world she must live in. She believes that at the end of her year of sleep, she’ll wake up more refreshed, more connected to those around her and more able to deal with, you know, everything.

Look, I may not be there yet, but I get it.

Moshfegh’s engrossing, fever-dream-ish book is a glorious read for these times, where social distancing means that pretty much all you can do to pass your free time is be on the bird app, which constantly updates us with the news that coronavirus is somehow getting worse every hour. You can tune things out, and you can do it with sleep. I know I will be, given that my college has moved to online-only classes (possibly indefinitely! so much for my last semester of undergrad!) and my internships have shifted to teleworking. Sleep, as the narrator says, is a “completely blank canvas.” Take advantage of it, and take a nap or several.

Given that I’ll be shut-in at home for the foreseeable future, I’ll be consuming a lot more media, so expect more content in the coming weeks.

Here’s some coronavirus-oriented lists of books to read: Brightest Young Things (which starts off with My Year of Rest and Relaxation), Buzzfeed, The New York Times, LitHub, Michaela LeFrak.

On my shelf for imminent reading or in my cart for imminent buying (not related to coronavirus!): The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson; kaddish.com by Nathan Englander; Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine; My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell; Portrait of Sebastian Khan by Aatif Rashid; Writers and Lovers by Lily King; Frankenstein by Mary Shelley; Melmoth by Sarah Perry; Hitting A Straight Lick With A Crooked Stick by Zora Neale Hurston; Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney; Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick; and Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson. I like fiction, as you can tell, but I finally caved and bought Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States because Timothee Chalamet basically told me to.

Please buy from independent bookstores! They rely on foot traffic, so they’re going to be hit hard for a while. Read Indiebound’s thread on how to support independent bookstores; find an independent bookstore near you with Indiebound; or shop online using Bookshop. If you’re in the D.C. area, Politics & Prose and Capitol Hill Books are offering free shipping!

If you prefer watching rather than reading your content, here’s some pandemic/quarantine-specific lists for you: Vulture, USA Today, The Boston Globe, Brittany Packnett Cunningham. And here’s Vulture’s general guide to streaming.

On my watchlist: Altered Carbon, season 1, on Netflix; Children of Men on Starz; What We Do in the Shadows, season 1, on Hulu; Snowpiercer on Netflix (Bong Hive LFG); Suspiria (2018) on Amazon Prime; The Witcher, season 1, on Netflix; The Farewell on Amazon Prime; and Frances Ha on Netflix. I’m looking forward to Westworld, season 3, on HBO (Sunday night!!!) and Little Fires Everywhere, season 1, on Hulu (the 18th). I may rewatch Chernobyl on HBO even though I watched it literally two weeks ago, as well as Contagion on Amazon Prime even though I watched it last week, because they’re unfortunately all too relevant. I also may rewatch The Crown and Mad Men, the whole damn things, on Netflix.

As for food, Alison Roman gave us a shopping list so you can cook her recipes during your ~isolation~.

Here’s my TikTok of the week, which is also a preview of how I will be spending my online classtime. (Also, I guess I’ll get into TikTok now.)

Wash your hands, and have a great weekend!