By Moira Donegan.
7:43 AM, Crown Heights
I wake up when I hear my phone’s alarm chirp and slide it silent. Actually, the alarm has been going off for 13 minutes, but in that time the most I’ve managed to do is drag it towards my pillow, and open up Instagram. I pull my weight forward and sit up, dutifully. I take the two pills on my nightstand—a calcium supplement and an SSRI, both of which I am told are good for women—and stand up to shrug off the kimono that I slept in. I stand naked in the long mirror for a moment, mentally itemizing all of my dissatisfactions with my body, but this is so boring that I quickly put the kimono back on.
I feel achy, pacing my bedroom, and realize that I want exercise. Before I first started working out voluntarily, sometime in college, I thought that people who claimed to love exercise were kidding themselves—that at best it was kind of a civic duty, akin to taking your garbage out on Tuesday nights for the Wednesday morning pick-up. Now I love it, sincerely, in a way that’s hard to articulate except to say that after an hour on a Stairmaster, the muscles in my thighs feel huge, solid and complicated, like the engines of beautiful cars. My boyfriend is still asleep and is likely to stay that way until at least noon, and I briefly calculate whether I could travel to my gym and back before he wakes up. I could, but instead I climb back into bed, and am asleep within minutes.
I wake up again, this time voluntarily, and go downstairs to make coffee. I do not live in an apartment, but a house—one of the massive, once-glorious brownstones in deep Brooklyn that still hasn’t been cubed up into apartments. The place has four floors, two kitchens, four bathrooms, and, including myself, nine roommates, sharing it all. I can tell that this living situation sounds horrible because when I explain it to new people they say “Interesting!” The truth is that it actually is interesting. My roommates are kind, intelligent people, good-willed and ready to laugh, who never eat my peanut butter or make messes that they don’t clean up. Several of them are in the kitchen—Owen, the journalist, Rachel, who works for the Asia Society. I spend the better part of an hour talking to them as we all cook or wash dishes. I learn that Owen forgot his keys and got locked out in the middle of the night (Upstairs, on my phone: Missed Call (1) Owen Davis, 2:50 AM), and that all the house’s roommates have received early morning emails from our landlord thanking us for paying this month’s rent on time—which is odd, because none of us did.
I install myself at the foot of my bed with a mug of coffee and my laptop, and pull my boyfriend’s feet over my shins. The magazine I work for, n+1, is in the home stretch of production for our next print issue, and yesterday all the pieces were sent around to the editors’ listserv. I read through them and begin to realize, almost by surprise, that the issue is good.
Because I know I have to keep a diary of my day, I pull out the only two books of diaries that I have: Sontag, 1947-1963, and Kafka, 1914-1923. In Against Interpretation, Sontag called for an erotics rather than an hermeneutics of art, but as I paw through his diaries I am hard-pressed to imagine an erotics of Kafka. He complains that he doesn’t get enough sleep; he elaborately justifies a move to Berlin that he will never make. (“Not because of Felice, though of course I love Felice and may love Berlin only because I love her.”) I remember, vaguely, an article I read as an undergrad that argued for a sensuality of the uncertain in Kafka; I decide to search for the piece so that I can pull it up on my phone, then lose fifteen minutes thumbing through social media. A poet that I follow on Twitter has posted a joke: “Life is like a box of chocolates in that I primarily associate it with stress and weight gain.” I idly wonder whether Kafka would find this funny and know that the project of reading the diaries is lost. I switch instead to a coffee table book of early twentieth-century erotic postcards, something I bought on impulse two weeks ago and haven’t had a chance to look at. I decide quickly that it was a good purchase.
Ben is still asleep. I have learned that the quickest way to wake him up is to stick a plate of bacon under his nose, so this is what I decide to do.
In the kitchen, I fry bacon, boil more coffee, and begin cutting up frozen bananas to throw into a blender and make banana ice cream with, a happy product of my new flirtation with veganism, which otherwise isn’t going well. I recently read an interview with Lauren Berlant where she talked about veganism as a way of “enacting utopia.” Her idea was that being kind, responsible, joyous, and thoughtful in ways that can seem like they are prohibited or unreasonable helps to create a world where such actions aren’t prohibited or unreasonable, but perfectly normal, perfectly possible. I thought this was beautiful and decided impulsively to become a vegan, but found that my veganism wound up being a lot of self-deception, excuses, exceptions, full of reasons why it’s okay to eat this specific cheese in this specific moment. The ringing pain of my hangover, for instance, reminds me that last night I was drinking wine, which is never vegan unless it’s Manischewitz. I wasn’t drinking Manischewitz; I was drinking prosecco, and I pretended that I didn’t know it wasn’t vegan because I wanted to be drinking prosecco. This kind of thing has been happening a lot. It occurs to me that utopia might be beyond my capacity to enact. This all seems like very noble thoughts to be having while I make my breakfast until I realize that I am absent-mindedly picking my nose.
The bacon worked and now Ben is awake, sitting up in bed and scraping a fork on his plate. He agrees to come with me to the Kehinde Whiley exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, about a fifteen minute walk from my house, and later to a birthday party that my friends are throwing. We each shower and I spend a stupidly long time applying makeup, my human mask. I gaze too intently in the mirror and draw thick, dark lines of eyebrows.
3:55 PM, Prospect Heights
Finally out of the house, we pass Tom’s Restaurant, on Washington Avenue, on the way to the museum. Tom’s is a diner that’s been in the neighborhood since the thirties; inside the walls are covered in framed, signed photographs of minor actors and TV weathermen, and there are enormous, ever-changing arrangements of fake flowers. Before I started seeing Ben, Tom’s was my traditional post-coital brunch spot, and it seems like everyone else in the neighborhood has had the same idea: even this late in the afternoon, there is still a line snaking outside the door with couples lined up like toy soldiers. I envision a montage of male faces in the diner, smiling at me over plates of eggs; Elias, whom I owe an email to; Patrick, moving to Chicago for that PhD. I feel a big-hearted, grateful feeling towards all of them; rarely are my emotions so cheery and uncomplicated, but it’s that kind of day.
4:33 PM, Brooklyn Museum
The museum is packed and we realize, happily, that it’s the Brooklyn Museum’s “First Saturday” event, which means we get in for free. There are children everywhere, eating Cheerios out of plastic bags and clinging to the legs of their fathers’ jeans. Looking at Rodin’s sculpture of a defiantly fat Balzac, one of them calls out “Mommy, mommy, a monster is chasing me!” and then crashes into my legs.
The Kehinde Wiley exhibit is why everyone is there: in the gallery, on the fifth floor, I am so distracted by the paintings that twice I nearly knock over over a modelish-looking redhead. Kehende Wiley is a portrait artist, and he works in large scale; one painting of a reclining, backward-gazing young man takes up an entire gallery wall, and it takes me twenty paces to pass it.
Wiley is an artist with an agenda, and this is one thing I like about him. He works though a process called street casting, where he invites ordinary people to audition to be his models, and then has them choose paintings and sculptures from classical European art to have themselves painted into. The resulting work recreates the source material in the image of mostly young black men, and in the copy on the little white plaques next to every painting, there’s a lot of celebration of Wiley’s work drawing attention to the underrepresentation of black people in classical art. The portraits are nearly photorealistic, and painted in intense, strange colors, and suffused with an attitude for their subjects that I can’t think of a word for other than love. One portrait, a Byzantine-style painting of a shirtless, heavily tattooed man posing as St. Gregory, is the sort of thing that makes you wonder how people can just walk around, going to their day jobs and folding their laundry, in world where such a thing exists.
Notes I make in my phone as I walk through the exhibit:
Mocks pompous presentations of white dignity
The gallery attendants don’t seem to mind all of the visitors holding their camera phones up to the canvases, so I have my picture taken with my favorite painting before we leave.
7:15 PM, Franklin Avenue
I am dumb enough to try to take Ben to Franklin Avenue for dinner on a Saturday night, and am dully punished with hour-plus wait times for tables at every restaurant we walk into. We finally squeeze our way onto two bar stools in Barboncino; I get white beans with pesto and an arugula salad that’s worth writing home about. Ben is making me laugh hysterically, over and over, hitting every punchline like whacking alligators in an arcade game.
We stand up to leave, but Ben’s coat is gone from its hook below the bar. We ask the hostess; we ask the bartenders. We make fools of ourselves for several minutes, inspecting every coat in the restaurant and receiving displeased hisses from the other patrons—”that’s mine.” It’s the sort of incident that manages to expose people’s characters without itself being such a big deal: Ben, cheery and optimistic, is convinced that it’s a big mistake and that his coat must be here, somewhere; meanwhile, I bitterly assume that someone has stolen it. It’s too cold out, below freezing, for anyone to be without a coat. I suddenly note with alarm the puny thinness of Ben’s T-shirt and cardigan. Like in most emergencies, my first instinct is get to Target. But the Target is all the way in Fort Greene and closing in twenty minutes. I resolve to buy Ben a coat, and summon an Uber for the purpose, but Ben insists on staying behind, convinced that no one would take his coat. “Who would do that?” he asks, and I say something like “People are bastards!” as I swing into the backseat of an anonymous black sedan.
9:53 PM, Target
The men’s clothing section of the Brooklyn Target has a lot of novelty T-shirts and black polyester socks, but no coats. I ask a bored-looking employee, who tells me that they’re sold out. It’s late in the season, I know, for winter coats, but suddenly spring seems infinitely far away. I get a call from Ben, who has given up on finding his coat at the restaurant and is in a cab on his way to meet me. The best I can find for him is a fuzzy-lined windbreaker, and this is what I extend to him, feebly, when I see him come up the escalator.
10:25 PM, Anonymous Park Slope Sports Bar
After we buy Ben his new windbreaker and zip him into it (“No. I swear, this thing is really warm”) we slip down Fifth Avenue to a bar to talk about what bastards people are. I contemplate scenarios in which stealing a stranger’s coat from Barboncino’s would be justified: homelessness, perhaps, or a Robin Hood–like wish to redistribute the coat to someone who needs it more. Ben gets a call from the restaurant, telling him that the coat has been returned. Some confused patron had drunkenly mistook it for their own, and then drunkenly returned it. Thus reassured, we decide to head to the party.
11:21 PM, Call Box Lounge
The party is a joint birthday celebration for Dayna, Kathleen, and Mara, friends of mine from n+1, and Sarah, who I don’t know as well. It’s in a Greenpoint dive bar right under the BQE, so filled with people I love that the place has the quality of Christmas. I’m immediately greeted by Alex and Alex, a dark-haired, smiling couple who are so good-looking that it almost feels like I recognize them from TV; I hug Dayna, Emma, Mara, and Kaitlin. Kathleen is wearing a long, beautiful black top and is smiling like a baby animal: It occurs to me that I don’t know anyone else who is so good at expressing joy. Ben has friends here too, and I am introduced, pressing hands, smiling without effort. I talk to a man in a beautiful red sweatsuit about how I want to raise my kids in the south; I talk to Jo, a pink-haired Medievalist, about how she’s the kind of person who I would have had as an imaginary friend in childhood, but get to have as a real friend in adulthood because life is beautiful.
I am a terrible dancer, but have forgotten this: I swing my ass back and forth like the pendulum in a grandfather clock. I dance with Alex to “Dancing on my Own;” I dance with Ben to “H to the Izzo.” I am joyous and very drunk.
I find myself in need of a cab home just as Ben’s pal Sergei arrives at the party. I tell Ben to stay and spend time with his friend; I like the image of them drinking beers and clapping each other on the shoulder. In the cab on the way home 2 AM abruptly becomes 3 AM: I had forgotten about Daylight Savings Time.
3:18 AM, Crown Heights
I drink chamomile tea in my kitchen and head upstairs to wash my makeup off. Outside my bedroom window, the streetlights are bright enough to see the Presbyterian church on my corner. The church’s congregation is made up of West Indian families, and they hold their first services on Sunday Mornings at 6:30. I briefly consider staying up to watch the congregants march up the street in their Sunday clothes: the grandmothers in huge, ribboned hats, the little boys in suits too big for them. Instead a curl into a comma next to my window and fall asleep.
Moira Donegan is a grad student and an associate editor at n+1. She lives in Brooklyn.