Mere Being 009 - January

Hey there. I'm Nat Bennett, and you're reading Mere Being, a monthly newsletter about whatever's on my mind that month.

First, a few announcements.

  • I'm working on a new pop-up newsletter. It's titled "500 words about Pivotal" and it's going to be about a month of short e-mails about Pivotal. The dates are probably going to change but expect to see the "hey this is starting" e-mail in the next week or so.
  • I made a zine about How to Quit Vim.
  • I'm going to be available for new work soon. I'm still figuring out what I want to do but if you read that previous sentence and thought, "Ooh, I want to work with Nat," then I want to talk to you. Send me an e-mail (nat at this website, or just respond to this e-mail) and we'll set something up.

This month I read Infinite Jest. I was stuck in an airport for like twenty four hours and just... finished it. I read it on my phone so I didn't perceive it as an especially long book. It just lasted a while but it was fun the whole time.

It's got in it what's probably the best description I have ever read of what it's actually like to be suicidally depressed. This is something people who haven't had the experience generally don't understand at all – to a kind of obnoxious degree if you are suicidally depressed and you're trying to explain that experience to people.

People tend to think that it's about how much you hate yourself or that you think the world would be "better off without you." And that probably is it for at least some people. But my experience has been much more like – You know how sometimes you just want to do things? Like, "Oh, I want to play a video game." Or "I want to eat some specific thing."

Imagine that feeling but what you want is to die.

But that's not what actually makes you suicidal. At first it's just a thought. You wake up one morning and instead of getting breakfast you want to step in front of a bus. But you don't, because that's crazy.

But thinking this kind of crazy is terrible. After a couple of weeks or a couple of months of thinking about killing yourself all the time you start being willing to do anything to get that thought to stop. After a while you stop being afraid of dying.

And people will tell you things like, "Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem." Because they think that you want to kill yourself because you, I dunno, lost your job or you got broken up with. But if you're thinking all the time about killing yourself – especially if you've recovered from depression like that and then gone back to being depressed a few times – it does start to feel like a permanent condition. Maybe it'll go away again – but even if it does, it'll always come back.

You start to get angry at the people who don't want you to kill yourself, the people who love you. Because "love" means they want you to be in pain for the rest of your life.

Anyway – if any of that is familiar to you at all, you ought to read Infinite Jest. Yes, even the tennis parts. Apparently it somehow got a reputation as being a thing that obnoxious literary bros like? But you can't let "bros like this" become a reason not to read things that are good. You can't live your life that way.


It's been roast chicken and stews this month.

I've been making koresh fesenjan, a pomegranate-walnut stew which I have been granted permission to describe as "kind of like a sour mole." The recipe I like is from Bottom of the Pot. You'll want to serve it with rice and a Persian herb platter. It's also really good with ground beef.

Persian food is this thing that I didn't know I loved until I was like, thirty. I have a friend whose dad is Persian and I was telling him the Iranian yogurt story one day and his response is, "Iranian yogurt isn't that good anyway, you're not missing anything. It's just yogurt." So I asked him, "Okay well what am I missing out on from Iranian food." And he said, "Rice." And explained how his grandmother cooks tahdig. It's a whole thing – it takes multiple pots and multiple stages and it's generally a huge pain in the ass – but I have to agree with Persians that it is the absolute best way to cook rice.

Around the same time I was reading Samin Nosrat's Salt, Fat, Acid and Heat, and starting to cook out of it, and she's got a recipe for a tahdig-like rice dish in there. And then– well, it was 2020, and I was cooking at home a lot, and I started getting ideas in my head like, "I should make full-on two-pan two-hour tahdig" and "I need another new cookbook." And I got really, really into Persian food.

The best way to describe it I think is, what if you took a Thai approach to flavor (strong flavors balanced against each other, especially sweet/sour and fresh/savory) but you used Mediterranean ingredients? It's got a lot of familiar flavors – walnut, pomegranate, chicken – but mixed together in surprising ways.

The other thing about this whole period is that there were some things about ancient history that started to make a lot more sense – the whole way that Greeks and Romans write about "the East" and "Asia." This didn't used to make a lot of sense to me because when I hear "Asia" I think "China" and maybe "India" and the Greco-Roman world didn't have any idea what a "China" was. When they talk about Asia they're really talking about Persia. So it fit something experiential and sensory into place for me – something hard to describe in words, but something different about the world I live in from the world these ancient writers lived in.


As always – thanks for reading. More soon, I hope.

-Nat

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