My name is Arianna Stern. This is a page with some of my freelance work. You can email me at arianna[dot]s at gmail[dot]com.
Why did your pagan lord create crust punks?
Some crustie on the sidewalk said, “You dropped your smile.” I said “fuuuuuuuucck youuuuuuu” in response, but the joke’s on me, because after that I smiled REALLY BIG.
Like most people who will read this, I think, I first heard of Aaron Swartz following his suicide. A few photos of him popped up on my Tumblr dashboard, and a post showed that he was going to be buried in Highland Park, the Chicago suburb where I spent most of my childhood.
Highland Park is not a small town in that it’s not provincial, cozy, or physically disconnected from other suburbs. But when someone from my hometown makes the news, I take notice. It’s not rare for Highland Parkers to pursue high-status careers—the city is an incubator for white-collar professionals and local politicians—but Aaron Swartz was obviously exceptional.
Highland Park is a very Jewish community that’s obsessively serious about college education, and I’m both grateful for and resentful of the unfair advantages it gave me and others. In a lengthy article about Aaron Swartz, Wesley Yang wrote,
“Swartz had described Highland Park, not uncharitably, as one of the places where the parents were educated and well-meaning, and had looked upon the struggles for justice of the sixties with sympathy, though they did not themselves participate.”
I had barely learned who Swartz was when I learned that we had (at least) one mutual friend, and it dawned on me that he might have gone to my high school. Maybe we had even met, I thought; a name like Aaron Swartz hardly sticks out in Highland Park.
I learned later, from a friend, that he had gone to a private high school, and I learned from Yang’s article that he didn’t stay in high school for long. This is how I’m becoming acquainted with him—both through official news sources and other Highland Parkers, a mix of organic and official sources. Each time I hear about Aaron Swartz, I experience a sort of rotten-fruit intimacy. It’s a reversal of the natural order. This is a person I could have known during his life—whom I could plausibly have met—whom I’m only now getting to know, better and better, after his death. I’m not trying to claim someone else’s grieving as my own, only trying to define this sad, untidy semi-distance.
I started swimming again
In Buenos Aires, I joined a health club where the pool was full of hot water and at least one clump of unidentifiable mossy growth. There was no limit on how many people could swim in a lane. It was wack; I didn’t stick it out.
For a short time during my childhood, I wanted to be an Olympic swimmer. At the age of 8 or so, I could swim something like 40 laps (!). True to the cliche about brainy kids, I was athletically untalented, as slow on the court as I was quick in the classroom. Swimming was my one exception. But between those two periods—childhood and last year—I never swam at all.
I didn’t join the swim team during high school, since I was recovering from having my tonsils removed during training season. After that first year, I lost my sense of perspective and threw myself overzealously into my schoolwork. I was still a bloodthirsty competitor, but my personal happiness and growth did not factor into my decisions. I spent about three years feeling like an anxious racehorse. When I crossed the finish line, there was only more school.
Being back in the water is both a challenge and a comfort. I’m not the first to point this out—Murakami probably isn’t, either—but there are parallels between the creative process and endurance sports. Both involve slowly building something, improving technique, and (possibly) sustaining pain. If you’re creative and a swimmer, both processes involve holding your breath.
Another thing I loved when I was very young was writing fiction. I let that go to fallow, too, turning my focus instead to essays, comedy, and magazine journalism. I’ve tried to pick up the pace with my fiction writing, but I get so angry with myself when I create something lackluster, which is always, maybe because I’m young. Sometimes I’m so disappointed in myself that I don’t even get started. It’s entirely possible that I’m too fragile for the life I’ve chosen for myself. But you know, you get stronger.
- Matthew: these people are all saaaaaaad http://25.media.tumblr.com/80a1ca9a00f511960910706214f01861/tumblr_mf9a9xsOTN1s0cjm8o1_500.png
- "i'm sorry for not being sorry anymore"
- how is that not a kelly clarkson lyric
- me: whoa that's just nuts
- why are you looking at this?
- for most of these people it's just their looks
- it's not that they're too nice
- there's this myth that women don't care about how men look and just want someone who can make them laugh
- it's a lie
- being too nice is not a problem for handsome men
- Matthew: haha
- well, yeah
- but that myth fucks your head up, when you're not at that level of attractive
- where you can sit on your hands and girls will approach you
- hah, the fact that girls care about physicality as much as men do, about as much at least
- damages a lot of long held ideas about attraction, relationships, etc.
- it's probably harder for a lot of people
- to face that, than it is to rationalize "these girls are mean to me because i'm too nice"
- but it's not even that, really
- in order to think "these girls don't like because i'm too nice"
- you've got to be some kinda big bitch
- i imagine being unattractive is about as bad as being a huge self-effacing bitch
- i bet none of the dudes on this blog listen to rick ross
- i say that as someone who doesn't even like rick ross
- but ricky rozay would probably change these dudes' life
- me: hahahaha
- you are a miracle
Prairie State of Mind
Out of every year of my life, this is the one in which the most time has passed. I left behind a lot of selves, living in different cities and passing time in distinct ways. There’s a version of my life in which I’m still living in South America, bickering with my roommate, eating gelato every day, and drinking red wine in loft apartments with other expats. In another version of my life, I never left Chicago, and I’m still fuming because I haven’t seen much of the world. Some say that cats have nine lives. How many lives do I have?
I’m back in my hometown for a couple of months. Once you’ve found your friends, Chicago is an almost perfect city. Housing is cheap; tacos abound. You could go out every night of the week if you wanted to, and the drinks here are inexpensive and strong. This is a city full of broad alleys and wide streets that look like lungs full of air. It’s a cosmopolitan city, but it’s still very easy to live here, so much so that some people never leave. That’s why I had to pull the plug.
I couldn’t really tell you what I’m doing right now, other than vaguely explaining my plans for my work, and my ideas about my next move. Desperately, I want someone to tell me I’m doing this right, that I’m planning my life well, that I’m picking good friends, and that I’m taking care of myself the way functional people do. No one really has the authority to do that, least of all me. When I’m not ecstatic about being home, I feel a little disoriented and claustrophobic, in sort of a broader, metaphorical sense. I might still look back on this time fondly later in life. Sometimes I get really nostalgic for the parts of my life in which I was working through shit and feeling kind of miserable. I was building so much muscle. I was growing so much bone.