It does not seem like an accident that on the precipice of Man Repeller’s 10th anniversary, it is beginning to feel like I, and therefore we, are back where we started. Yes, the place got fancier— the photos are higher touch, the frequency with which we post and the number (and caliber!) of byline names that decorate the strategically crafted headlines that populate our pages have increased. As such, the budgets to support these enhancements have risen, too, but fundamentally, it seems we’re back where we started because we never really left. What drives my desire to get the hell up and out every morning is exactly the same as it was ten years ago: find the story in what it means to be alive right now.
I just had a revelation that this is very different from what I—probably we—do for social media, which is more like broadcasting our lives. It’s different because to find the story in what it means to be alive, you have to more consciously assume the role of the narrator. You have to sit and think and feel your way through incredibly uncomfortable fire hoops of analysis to come to terms with the harrowing recognition that you have only successfully accomplished the task if you’re sure you feel like you just ran a marathon even though in the realm of physical space, you haven’t moved an inch. Or maybe you’ve moved an inch, I don’t really know, but here I am. Here we are. Trying to find the story in what it means to be alive right now.
And you know what it’s meant over the last 72 hours within the squiggly creases of my brain inside my head behind the wrinkles on my forehead (indentations of experience) on the pillow of my bed in the southernmost quadrant of my Soho apartment, stocked with four cans of chickpeas, three coffee-companion milk alternatives and a week’s worth of produce to put to work for the family of four that now seems like it accidentally became mine while I was pulling strings as if the Wizard of Oz behind a curtain with no domestic skill but tons and tons and shitloads of opinions? It means…
It means that I’ve been sitting here, stuck at this inflection point for exactly 56 minutes trying to detangle the wires of what is probably very simple. I have no fucking idea what happens next. I don’t know how my kids will achieve the stimulation and energy dispensing they require every day for the next… for the next… I don’t even know how long this will last! And honestly, I don’t even think I should scratch this surface yet—I have no fucking clue what the future of my personal life looks like. I’ve asked myself at what point Abie and I stop rooting for each other. High-fiving smart disciplinary calls, baton-passing laundry loads and full-sink duty. At what point we start fighting over who finished the Zicam, at what point we give up, at what point the callouses grow so hard that we’re simply enabling the existence of the other within these close quarters but I stopped myself short because that, I believe, is what they call an unproductive spiral and, fuck, how many of those have there been so far. I had this thought that when this was over we would all go outside, burst into the streets with glitter flying out of our asses, trailing us as if a drone, only to find that my kids are like, terribly adjusted teenagers.
It’s daunting to think that we’ve done such a good job creating lives and worlds and mentalities that have deluded us into believing we’ve earned certainty as if a rite of passage at the gates of adulthood, and further that until Sunday night, when coastal American cities started to formally close schools and table service at restaurants and bars, we had the reprieve of stepping outside and actually believing that maybe it wasn’t as bad as our newsfeeds were making it seem, that business would go on as usual IRL. But now, here I am. Here we are. Trying to find the story in what it means to be alive right now.
The thing about living in a city like New York is that our respective experiences of it are collections of the places we frequent. And without our places, the constellations of our experiences don’t point back to anything tangible. They’re just memories—and we have nowhere to go. But home. It’s just that in a city like New York, when home isn’t a house, those places are it for a lot of us. I read something like that in a tweet earlier and it almost made me sob. Those places are it for a lot of us. Those places and the people who run them. And the people who run the people. They become family. What happens to them?
I also spent six hours in five Google Hangouts. I can’t even remember what most of them were about, but the cloud—or opportunity, really—that hung over each conversation was a singular question: What are we going to make now? Our executive and managing editors spent the majority of the end of last week stopping shoots and unscheduling stories and trying to predict, as we always do, what our audience—you—would need to hear from us, how we could support you and cater to you and most importantly, in my view, demonstrate that we’re here with you. I don’t mean that platitudinously, I’m not saying it in the tone of a Letter From The Leader. We are in the same damned boat, you and me. Directionlessly coasting around the same forlorn island. So in a very real, very un-cheesy but perhaps very cheezy way, we’re like actually in this together. And—silver lining!—isn’t it nice when the simple human circumstance of existing en masse unites us?
The more I think about it, the more clear it’s become that it feels like we’re where we started a decade ago, because every day back then offered a new adventure with the same ultimate question to answer: how are you going to make surviving a little more palatable?
I would wake up in the morning and make a coffee and get back under my covers in a bed that, honestly, my mom was still making for me and think to myself, What should I write today? So I’d begin my exploration of the wild west—an Internet pre-Instagram and regulation and frankly, a user-manual, when articles and videos still went viral (I know, I know) by seeming happenstance and at the end of the night, as I was dozing off, all I could think was how to take the feedback from that day the next day, then get up and try to do it better.
Now it seems we are being tasked to answer the same question from the vantage point of an attitude that has widened and matured over ten years, yes, sure, but especially over, like, 72 hours, where we find ourselves trying to navigate a new sort of wild west and cling to whatever ray of certainty or perspective or relief we can locate, but if I can promise anything it’s that we’re going to keep finding the story in what it means to be alive.
Then we will tell the story
Take the feedback
And think voraciously about how to do it better the next day.
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