Thanks for being here :) I know I said I’d publish twice in September and it’s the end of October :)
On Sintexting well
At the end of August, I took the LSAT. In early September, I met up with dear friends to backpack the Lost Coast Trail and pod up in the town of Arcata while California burned around us. Over the course of October, I’ve watched cases climb in Berlin, listened to full-throated warnings about the city’s housing shortage, sent emails into the void, burned offerings to the Google Translate gods, and otherwise chased my tail trying to see just how big a mistake I might be making when I board my flight next Thursday and complete the move I’ve been contemplating for the better part of a year.
What I mean to say is: I haven’t had much to offer you.
That, I hope, is no longer the case. Something significant writing this newsletter has given me is a brake pad for my involution. I’m prone to spirals of self-doubt. I sidestep these spirals when I can dive into other people’s writing and bring some pearls back out. I don’t worry so much about the value of what I’m saying if what I’m saying is built on what someone’s already said. That’s why most issues of Sintext have been explications of texts. These involve hours of reading, hours of note-taking, hours of re-reading, hours of unnecessary related reading, all before the writing even starts. I lose sleep over it; I love it; it’s obviously unsustainable. This short issue is of a different sort.
Here! Read this!
My (in)ability to keep up Sintext correlates with my reading habits. I’m having trouble finishing books lately. Instead I’ve been extremely online. TikToks aside, so much of what I put into my brain feels, at bottom, irredeemably dumb. It takes a toll, doesn’t it? Here are links to some not-dumb things.
Tech: Read Anna Wiener’s awesome profile of Moxie Marlinspike, CEO of Signal and co-author of the Signal Protocol, which I learned is what Facebook uses to encrypt WhatsApp and (one feature in) Messenger. Then read Mike Masnick’s (long, detailed, pro-competition!) 2019 call for protocols over platforms. (H/t for this link to Jasmine Sun in Reboot, another hub for tech writing/criticism from young people that I’m excited to follow.)
I recommend these complementary pieces especially if, like me, you found The Social Dilemma both reductive and beside the point, not to mention annoying. They offer far more articulate visions of what a virtuous, decentralized internet could look like. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I’m no tech expert; it’s imperative that we laypeople commit to learning how the structures that organize our experience of the world actually work. (Wiener’s definition of software protocols: “robust descriptions of how systems should function.”)
Fiction: Order Bryan Washington’s new novel, Memorial, from DIESEL, A Bookstore, my (sad to say) now former employer. Memorial is about Mike and Benson, a Houston couple ambivalent about their future together. The book starts when Mike’s mom comes all the way from Tokyo for a visit, just as Mike packs his bags to go care for his estranged, ailing father back in Osaka. It’s lovely, funny, and—rare for good fiction these days—ultimately uplifting. (And if you’ve got spare change, please donate to DIESEL’s ongoing fundraiser, so we can fulfill our obligations to our LandLord and stay in business.) This story, by Sasha Fletcher in The Baffler, also rocked me.
Cultural criticism/personal writing/other newsletters: Read the excellent editor’s note introducing The Drift’s second issue. Read Wesley Morris on mustaches and Blackness in the NYT. Read, if you haven’t, Emily Ratajkowski’s distressing piece in The Cut last month, so you can then read the challenging responses in Haley Nahman and Surya Milner’s respective newsletters. Read this installment of Book Post, where Christopher Benfey traces our election day history through American letters. (Partial penance for the last Sintext; meaningful Substacks exist, they’re just not the ones you see on the leaderboards.)
Ich werde ein Berliner sein
Back to me! I’ll be doing a two-year master’s program at the JFK Institute for North American Studies at Freie Universität Berlin. It’s tuition-free, and in English, which is good because because I don’t yet speak a word of German. I’m concentrating in Culture and Sociology. I’ll get to write another thesis in my last semester. I’m really excited.
Apart from my own voice, those that most openly questioned my decision belonged to my doctors. (Specifically to my dentist and oral surgeon. Unfair, right? “Yah, iss ah ree-ee coo broee-gwamm, ackua-wee.”) I can’t have those conversations back, so here are the first two paragraphs of the letter I’m sending to the German Academic Exchange Service to convince them to fund the second year of my program:
I first visited Berlin in the summer of 2019 with three close friends, just after graduating from college. We spent much of July 10, my 22nd birthday, ambling about Tempelhofer Field, taking in community gardens, roller-skaters, picnicking couples, decommissioned planes. As we were finally leaving, we stopped to buy a snack at a newsstand. That’s when a young girl crashed her bicycle right next to us.
Between the clatter and her beginning to cry was an elongated silence. It looked like she’d scraped her knee. These things happen! But instead of helping, the four of us just stood there, staring, until another woman—a different stranger—sprinted over to stand the girl back up. Only when the girl’s family finally reached her did the woman turn back to us, enraged. What she spat out has stuck with me: “Americans! You’re useless.”
Read the rest of my statement here, if you’d like. (I welcome comments and proposed edits straight on the doc. I’ll be tinkering with it until the end of the month.) I think there’s something to be gained by sharing this sort of writing—writing that we let be narrowly tailored, constrained by its purpose and recipient—because this is the writing that all of us do. There’s no such thing as a non-writer.
Stay (the right amount of) tuned
I look forward to continue sharing what I read and learn. But if it isn’t clear by now, this shouldn’t be a newsletter you count on to arrive with any sort of regularity. I don’t think that’s so terrible. Even if you can’t build Sintext into your morning routine, or the rhythm of your weeks, you can take each issue as a invitation to take a second and think with me. As ever, you can reply to this email with thoughts, or leave a comment.
And if you know anyone in Berlin looking for a roommate, please do hit me up. I’d actually be forever grateful. Here’s the photo I’ve been posting all over the internet.