Languishing in New England
Spencer Letter 01
Have you traveled in New England? This past week I’ve been in Bar Harbor and Portland, Maine; Boston; and Providence, Rhode Island. As I travelled between the smaller cities like Bar Harbor, Portland, and Providence, I felt deja Vu. Each place had the same stores that sold remarkably similar products, the restaurants advertised the same ‘special’ fare, and the ‘claims to fame’ of each city were more or less identical: the most breweries, the best lobster, some buildings salvaged from some historic fire/storm/battle. Despite visiting these places over the course of a week, my internal clock seemed stuck repeating the first day of the trip. I’m wondering if this is a manifestation of geography and proximity influencing culture (a New England megalopolis?), or a symptom of late-capitalism...
My trip comes near the denouement of a year-and-a-half long saga for the US and its citizens (not to mention literally the whole world). The Groundhog Day feeling of my week in New England has lasted hundreds of days throughout the COVID pandemic for many Americans, myself included. The New York Times recently dubbed this feeling ‘languishing,’ naming a sentiment shared by people whose lives were upended, but not devastated per se, by a global pandemic, for what seemed like it would be one month that quickly became three, then six, and so on.
Since the Times published this article, I’ve thought about whether or not I was amongst those languishing in the pandemic. I think at first, I was not. I was occupied with finishing senior year at Rice, eager and anxious to start a job in the summer, and pleased with taking time to myself to explore new hobbies. I read daily, wrote often, exercised regularly, and cooked new recipes. I made new cocktails, infused my own bitters, sustained a social life over zoom. But I’m not superhuman, and by November I felt drag...
There’s a problem with how we Americans discuss mental health. As the topic has rightfully entered our national dialogue, a useful vocabulary and common scale have begun to develop, but haven’t quite fully formed. What I mean by this is we can’t yet talk about mental health like we talk about physical health. For better or for worse (given the sorry state of healthcare for most Americans), we have a general sense of what merits a trip to a general practitioner, the ER, or is home-treatable. We won’t try to mend a bone jutting out of a broken arm on the couch at home. But for our brains and psyches, how can we formulate an analogy with respect to our corporeal well-being? What is the stubbed toe of psychology? What is the heart attack of mental health? The Times article helps construct this analogy; even if it is just a first step beyond the broad strokes of ‘depression’ or ‘mental disorder,’ it contributes a more nuanced vocabulary with which we can process and explain our own mental health, and that friends and family can use to analyze our mental health.
I’m returning home to Houston soon, but I’m not sure the dejavu will stay behind in New England. The languishing I’ve felt the last six months has been difficult to break, but an ebbing pandemic certainly helps. I’m writing this letter - one of my first compositions recently. I’m feeling up for trying to cook new dishes and make some new cocktails. I’m looking forward to traveling and visiting friends in person after zooming for a year and a half. And I’m excited to start this ‘postal’ exchange with you.