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“Of certain parts of life there can be no foreknowledge—war for instance. The soldier going to war for the first time does not know how he will behave when confronted by an armed enemy. He does not know this part of himself. Is he killer or coward? When confronted he will respond, yet he doesn’t know in advance what his response will be.”
—Rachel Cusk, Coventry
 


Vitamin C! Nº 22. Crucible

Friends, I write to you from my chaise longue with a broken toe on ice. It is so dumb how it happened that it's not even worth recounting. Unrelatedly, a manhole exploded in front of my apartment last night, shortly followed by another, in turn followed by the combustion of a nearby car, and a main electrical line blowing out resulting in the loss of heat and power for all residents on my side of the street for over 12 hours.

My upstairs neighbor, who had joined me in my apartment in a blanch-faced panic along with my downstairs neighbor, waved her hand in the general direction of the fire-lit windows and declared: That, my friends—2020.
 

Hi. It's been eight months since I last sent news. I am your co-witness, and compatriot. I'm like you, but unlike you. I recognize this and send my reflections with deep humility.

I've been keeping a log during the pandemic, both on paper and in Notion, excerpts which I share below. It's a kind of morbid mixed-media scrapbook, with links to articles, bullet points of general as well as personal news, whatever I felt compelled to register and record. As much as I want to, I can't forget. Too much has happened, too much has changed.

Day 1 (March 9, 2020): 142 cases in NY state. 16 confirmed in NYC.

Day 3: CDC officially declares a pandemic.

Day 7: Market in free fall.

Day 13: Got called a chink bitch.

Day 15: Shelter in place begins 8pm.

Day 16: NYSE run electronically for the first time. National Guard to CA. NY. Washington.

Day 23: Field hospital in Central Park. Trash services delayed. No C train. Sirens.

Day 40: Fatigue. Talk of reopening.

Day 43: Murder hornets.

Day 50: 💇🏻‍♀️

Day 56: To my right guilt and recognition. To my left, terror.

Day 66: ROKC reopened!

Day 68: J arrives.

Day 72: Trump: "Looting starts, shooting starts."

Day 73: Assaulted near St. Nicholas Park. Cried. Curfew 8pm every major U.S. city. Rampant looting for 2nd, 3rd? night in Manhattan. Journalists shot at by police.

Day 76: NYPD out of control. Writ of habeus corpus suspended in New York

Day 79: NYC reopens, Phase 1.

Day 82: The Wing implodes. Cancel culture. Women.

Day 93: NYC phase 2. Outdoor dining reopens. Playgrounds reopen. 300K people return to work.

Day 95: J leaves.

Day 107: NYC phase 3, limited.

Day 121: NYC Phase 4.

Day 133: The violence of family.

Day 134: J returns.

Day 135: An Choi closes forever. Augustine closes forever.

Day 172: California on fire. Apocalyptic orange.

Day 181: RBG died :(

Day 185: Gym reopens.

Day 195: Trump tests positive for covid.

Day 200: Flygate.

Day 213: Hiatus.

Day 219: Amy Coney Barrett confirmed.

Day 230: Biden. Thank god.

Day 262: UK releases vaccine.

Day 263 (December 10, 2020): FDA approves Pfizer vaccine for emergency use.

We experienced this, everyone in the entire world, separate but together, different but same. That blows my mind. Everything has changed. 
 

The eight of wands, from an Uusi meditation deck.

One day in March, I woke up and disengaged with most of my regular routines, as naturally as if I had never gone through them daily for years. I stopped working on my animated short. I largely lost interest in other artists' work and processes. I stopped planning out my days, making lists, having goals. I couldn't really read. Instead, I sought physicality, solidity, solitude, immediacy. I began cooking elaborate meals, mostly for myself.
 


I practiced yoga in my living room. I began lifting heavier weights. I lost almost 10 pounds of flab, gained muscle, and built enough upper body strength to do pull ups. I overcame my fear of inversions. There's a hint of a six pack. I started wearing shorts.
 


I continued consulting, quite intensely as the sole designer on a project, for most of 2020. The work was engaging and I was invested. I appreciated the daily rhythms and financial stability. The collaboration culminated in an app we launched to a small cohort mid-year. We built the MVP in only a handful of months. 
 


Shortly after launch, I decided to take a break from a role I've played for years—the quiet half of a prominent VC firm's design studio, which I helped establish.

Hiatus feels good but it's also bittersweet, like sending your kid off to college. Only a few years ago, the studio founder and I were brainstorming how to keep things going, putting together foundational programs, running workshops, engaging directly with portfolio companies. Now, it has its own engineers, a growing design team, and has become the driver and engine of the firm's future.

I'm proud of my work there. But in October, I began to grow restless. It was time for change.
 

Home studio wall.

I'm not who I was back in February. What was I thinking about back then? Who did I have on calendar? Why? I had an agenda, a schedule. These have largely come to feel artificial and strange. I'm a different person, this is a different era, New York is a different place.

I was recently called a gentrifier by a young Black father in my neighborhood who was pushing a stroller, unhappy about sharing the sidewalk with me. At first, I was angry. Then, I thought: well, isn't that what I am? An interloper, feeding upon a place that was made fat by people who can no longer afford to eat and sleep here?

I constantly grouse about and resent "the rich," "the privileged," "culture-poor tech professionals who arrive and dilute." But to some, am I not all of these things? Like it or not, I'm as responsible as any for the disappearance of a place I have always, and still can't help, but romanticize.
 


Small businesses have been closing even before the pandemic. Restaurants and bars, which provide so much life and texture to the City, have obviously been hard-hit this year. An Choi, Lan Zhou, Taladwat, Uncle Boons, Augustine, Pegu Club, Lucky Strike, and so many more...all gone, taking with them livelihoods, and memories.
 

Solo happy hour at now-closed An Choi, a LES staple, in happier days.

New York Nico has a meme going called "she's too young for you bro," where he shares photos of where institutions—Pearl Paint, Dean & Delucca, Moishe's—used to be, now maybe an Equinox, a Gap, or an H&M.

I looked up an antique shop in EV that's been around since the 90s, and saw that it too had recently closed. "The store’s rent, back in the day, was $250 a month, and it was always a party...[Then overhead] grew, taxes and regulations went up, and...the neighborhood changed. Rents increased exponentially and parking became impossible."

Will New York become one big Best Buy, and will I have had a hand in it? Are most of us just parasites, jumping from one thriving thing to another, sucking it dry, ad infinitum?
 


My neighbors, both women of color—one a Nigerian attorney and the other a young Filipina copywriter—acknowledge their roles as gentrifiers in Harlem, but their view is that this is simply the cycle of things, and that there are more effective ways to help than to, say, just leave. All of us happen to be first generation white collars. That angry father who called me a gentrifier? His daughter will be one of us.

Whatever stereotype I may ostensibly fit into, I came to the conclusion this year that I probably don't need a lot of things I once thought I did: to own a house, for instance. I've had this bucket list, waiting until I have this in order to do that, and when I really think about it, it's not clear why. I don't need to wait to live; I can do it now. I can make do with a little cash, organization, and elbow grease.

What I do absolutely want, in the end, is freedom. For the occasional indulgence. To be able to say no. To come and go. This, to me, is what "access" really means, and the only thing money is good for.

The worst thing in life is to be a consumer, and only that—someone who just eats and shits.
 

A projector screen I made of fabric, grommets, and a PVC pipe. It mounts onto small ceiling hooks.

Winter is here. My love and I are finally in the same time zone. I have time and space to myself. I'm starting to crave adventure. I want to be new to myself. I still see the beauty of having a vision, the desire to connect people. To connect to people. But for once, I don't have a plan.
 

Labor Day weekend at the Rockaways. A first.

The other day, I went to the Met. I saw the incandescent About Time. I finished Ondaatje's Warlight, and cried. I began collecting all of Nick Bantock's books. I took painting, studying, collaging back up. Increasingly, I get up early like I used to, when it's still dark.
 


Last month, my essay on technology and the idea of connectedness was published as a part of a multimedia exhibit in Northwestern's museum, Media Majilis, in Qatar—long delayed because of the pandemic. I'm proud to be featured alongside some heavyweights in journalism.
 


Before breakfast every morning, I draw three cards from a deck my sister sent me for Christmas. They're gorgeous triggers for meditation. Slowly, I'm filling back up, so that eventually I'll have enough to give again.
 


When I first broke my toe, the pain was unbearable, radiating outward like a conflagration. It looked normal at first, then began to puff up. Days later, it's less inflamed, though bluer, blacker—the locus of damage made manifest by time and migration of blood, a bruise clearly visible where it was ambiguous before.

I think it'll be ok.

The phrase has a different weight to it now, but: Happy New Year, everyone. 
 


Recommended Daily Intake

The New York You Once Knew Is Gone. The One You Loved Remains

May we live long and die out

NYC restaurant closings

ROAR.NY financial support for small businesses

French Exit film (trailer)

Brown sugar boba ice cream bar

Seoul Mills (online Korean grocery, legit)

Warlight by Ondaatje

P.S. I'm investigating SubStack for future newsletters. Or maybe Medium?! Thanks for coming along for the ride if you're game.


Take care of you. Take care of us.
Copyright © 2020 Coleen Baik, All rights reserved.






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Coleen Baik · 500 Westover Dr · #8701 · Sanford, NC 27330 · USA

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