the couch part one

how people call their tiny apartments "my house"

hi everybody, welcome back to griefbacon. During the last couple weeks, I spent some time thinking about how to make this newsletter sustainable and simply, you know, better. To that end, I’m going to be trying out a new approach: Over the course of a month, I’m going to write one long essay on a single (although probably wide-ranging) topic. Each Wednesday I’ll send out a piece of this essay, probably 500 - 1000(ish) words. On the last Wednesday of the month, I’ll send the whole big essay stitched together and made (hopefully) into a coherent whole, with edits and additions and subtractions and changes. All of this part of the project will (likely) remain free. 

Paying subscribers will of course continue to receive Monday’s discussion threads, which will be unchanged because I love them a whole lot (if you don’t yet subscribe, I really cannot recommend the virtual conversation pit that is the open discussion threads enough, here’s a favorite example). On most Saturday mornings, there’ll also be something extra for paying subscribers: A snippet from something else I’m working on, another small piece of the month’s big essay that probably won’t appear in the final draft, a weird overemotional product recommendation, a list about TV I’m watching, a short and vulnerable stand-alone essay, who knows, it’ll be weird and fun and will happen more Saturdays than not, it’ll be a surprise, you’ll like it. 

These changes will make writing this newsletter more feasible for me without it meaning I have no time or brain space to write anything else. They’ll mean I’m able to send it on a regular, definite schedule, and they’ll address some (very understandable) feedback I’ve gotten about the length of many or most of these essays/posts/whatever they are being a barrier to people reading or signing up for this newsletter. 

We’ll see how it goes, if this sucks I’ll change it, and if that happens I’ll update you about that too. Newsletters are a very different thing than they were in 2015 (!!!) when I started writing this one, and although I’m resistant to change in general, I’m trying to keep this going in a form that makes sense both for me and for all of you subscribers, for whom I feel more grateful than I can ever possibly say. 

Ok, that’s all. Happy June, no cops at Pride, let’s talk about couches. 

the couch, part one

The first time I owned a couch was eleven years and ten apartments after I moved to New York. I was twenty-nine, and buying a couch — my own whole entire couch!— felt like a miracle. It was also when I learned that basically all couches are both terrible and expensive. Once you buy a couch yourself, your perspective on all of your friends suddenly changes. Maybe everyone is secretly rich, or maybe everyone knows certain codes and shortcuts that have never been revealed to you, a silent way through the landscape of money. Once I knew how much couches actually cost, especially new, it was as though a blacklight had been turned on, revealing a room crawling with price tags.

So much of my twenties in New York was about realizing I had no idea how people acquired things, that I had no idea how anyone else survived. I never understood by what mechanism all the people with whom I sat and talked and poured our hearts out, the people with whom I got beers and complained about work and sent long texts and took the subway and told stories about our childhoods, were keeping their heads above water, how they were managing to steer their own lives out of the storm. I assumed it was hard for everyone else, and I assumed it was easy for everyone else, and I felt certain I was wrong about all of my assumptions, and I probably was. 

“Is everyone else secretly rich,” is of course the whole experience of being young (and also older) in New York (and probably in other places, I just haven’t lived anywhere else for any significant time as an adult). I spent so long trying to figure out if there was something I was missing, if there was something everybody else knew. I spent so long trying to figure out how other people had couches, and homes, and relationships, how people paid their taxes and got up in the morning and made it through another day and didn’t ruin their own lives. Money, and debt, and savings, and security, in all its many forms, are languages that we often don’t even know we can’t speak until we hear other people talking and can’t understand them. Couches were part of that language, just like savings and vacations and homes and even having children; something was lost in translation, and that something said that actually everyone else is not like you.

Couches, specifically, were something other people did. A couch was an established life, it was having your shit together. A couch was settling, it was knowing that you were going to stay in one place for a long time. A couch was the way that people in New York, and probably in other big cities, call their apartments “my house” even when the apartment is three hundred square feet. The feeling when people do this is the same feeling as the phrase “safe as houses,” an interior embrace in which a house means security without fear, means certainty and calm. A couch meant coming home to the same place every night. 

The couch is where a sort of sloppy and banal intimacy happens. Inviting someone over to sit on the couch means I know them well enough that they can just hang out in my home without ceremony, as though they live there. The couch is at once a social orbit— especially in these small spaces in a city like New York, where an entire house party sometimes takes place on a single couch— and a place where people stop performing. When I come back from work or from a party, what I look forward to the most is when I get to change gratefully out of a constricting outfit, and wash off my makeup, and put on soft clothes, and sit on the couch; “couch” is a word that means this whole experience, this entire discrete emotion, tired and relieved and finally feeling beautiful now that I’m not dressed up for anyone. A particular kind of sociality that I missed in the last year, and that I often heard other people express that they missed, is the one in which someone just comes over to sit on the couch, with no real agenda and no big plans, just come over and sit around on the couch and look at our phones and talk shit.

Another phrase in the same category as “safe as houses,” is asking “who is he when he’s at home?” This phrase can simply mean someone’s name as opposed to an alias or formal title, but it can also refer to the fact that people take off their masks, their facades and disguises, inside of their homes when the door closes. Who we are when we’re on the couch is a softer version of the self, sweatpants and no makeup, without defenses. It is the way a conversation between old friends supports and holds space for easy silences. On the couch you are allowed to not talk; you are allowed to just look at your phone even if someone else is in the room; you are allowed to fall asleep. In this way, bars and coffeeshops with couches in them have always felt transgressive to me, as though they were inviting me to be too much at home.

When I finally bought a couch of my own, I had had a freelance windfall a week or two before I was moving into a new apartment and I went to Film Biz (RIP forever) in Park Slope and bought a gigantic ridiculous white behemoth of a thing that was probably so cheap because who wants a not-exactly-new white couch? Sometimes I would open all the windows in my tiny apartment and clean it with an overly-strong bleach solution, but it was never really clean. I called it Moby-Couch, and it was objectively terrible, and I miss it every single day. The couch I own now was much more expensive and is technically much nicer, and yet to compare the two is laughable. I loved Moby-Couch with my entire heart. I am extremely tall, and therefore I have enormous unearned affection for anything that is bigger than me, because I so rarely get to feel small. Moby-Couch was gigantic enough to make me feel petite, low-slung and deep-set with a high curving wood-framed back that swallowed me up when I laid down on it; I could stretch out and my feet wouldn’t reach the other end. I had barely any other furniture in that apartment, but I had a couch and it was a universe, a little island on which I could safely float away. A couch meant I had a home, that I got to have a private self, a place where no one was watching.

thanks for reading. this weekly free edition of griefbacon is one part of a longer essay that I’ll be writing piece by piece over the course of the month, leading up to a full draft at the end of June. come back next week for more thoughts on couches and home and things like that. if you enjoyed this, maybe consider subscribing? paying subscribers get access to the open discussion threads on mondays, and an extra weird something on (most) Saturdays. if you’d like to subscribe but can’t afford it, you can always just email me. if you’d like to buy a gift subscription for someone else, you can do that here. xo