Making sense of the year in culture.
By Melissa Kirsch
Welcome. My colleagues are looking back at the ways culture was upended in 2020, and their reflections are helping me make sense of a year that frequently seemed senseless. James Poniewozik put it best, I think, pointing out that this is the year “everything became TV”: We watched “I May Destroy You” on Netflix, and used the same screen to attend school, to take yoga classes, to commune over Thanksgiving dinner.
When you find yourself with time on screens this weekend, be sure to read Salamishah Tillet on culture’s reckoning with white privilege, and check out how Jesse Green learned to critique theater on a curve. Read Reggie Ugwu on how podcasts made him feel less isolated, Zachary Wolfe on discovering an opera community online, Dwight Garner on finding the time for reading. These critics have been at home, too — working remotely, like so many of us — becoming, as Ugwu put it, “involuntary shut-ins, haunting our own homes like premature phantoms.” Their meditations on 2020 helped me feel more connected and may do the same for you.
Earlier in the week, I told you about an apparently phantom-sent bag of birdseed I received in the mail. It was followed the next day by a beautifully wrapped bird feeder that suctions to the window — perfect for apartment dwellers — and accompanied by a card from my thoughtful older brother. I was disappointed, of course, not to have an Encyclopedia Brown-style mystery to crack, but glad that the birdseed wasn’t, as some At Home readers wrote in to suggest, part of the unsolicited seed mailings from China.
Those mailings may have been part of a “brushing scam,” in which online merchants send out unordered merchandise in order to goose sales. Could this be the reason one reader received two high-tech umbrellas she didn’t order? “I called my mother. I called my mother-in-law. I called my brother. I called my neighbor and long-forgotten friends,” she wrote. “No one sent them. No one seemed to think I needed another umbrella, or two. So here I am, no rain and two fabulous umbrellas I didn’t order.” If you’ve received mystery packages (that aren’t gifts from generous siblings!), the Better Business Bureau suggests notifying the retailer and changing your account passwords to be safe.
Another mystery: Barbara in East Hampton is wondering where the teensy ants in her house are coming from. She included just one clue: The house has a basement. Any guesses? I’m not sure of the source of the bugs in Barbara’s case, but I have vanquished my own uninvited parade ants with a spray made of equal parts white vinegar and water.
As 2020 comes to a close, how are you making sense of the year? What did you realize about yourself, the books and television and recipes and screen time that filled your months, the way you passed the time? Do our critics’ experiences speak to yours? Send us some cultural criticism of your own: firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your full name, age and location, and we might share your response in a future newsletter. We’re At Home. We’ll read every letter sent. As always, more ideas for leading a good life at home appear below. See you next week.
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