This Is Us

The year of ghosts and dreams

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It is early in a year in which I can’t remember how to sleep at night. I do my job in between naps, so often pinned to the bed or the couch by fatigue and grief. Frequently, I find myself awake at 3 a.m. here in New Jersey, texting with friends in Los Angeles. When I do fall asleep, long after they’ve finally gone to bed, the sun is on its way up, the blue-gray light of morning slowly brightening the blanket of snow. Sometimes I can hear the first birds chirp as I drift off, wrapped in my warm…


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Photo of me holding something I never actually carry, by Gia Cognata

The secret satisfaction of watching you spend

My Venmo membership is one of the most conveniently creepy aspects of my digital life. My profile is set to private, but to my absolute delight, most of you have a public Venmo profile. And I love watching what you do there.

Like most of my so-called microgeneration — that space between Millennials and Gen X known as “Xennials” or, as writer Anna Garvey memborably termed it in 2015, the “Oregon Trail Generation” — I rarely carry paper money. …


AOC and Katie Porter share the hard-earned ‘gift’ for noticing what others can’t yet see

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Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

This week, I opened my phone and watched Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tell a story that managed to be both shocking and familiar. The congresswoman is an unusual individual, and her hour-long Instagram Live broadcast regarding the attempted coup at the Capitol was extraordinary. It was also horribly, painfully, and sadly ordinary.

Given her celebrity status and the seemingly endless cheers and jeers sent her way from all corners of the internet, it’s easy to forget that Ocasio-Cortez is also an actual human. She is not simply an amalgamation of some strangers’ hopes, dreams, and nightmares. She occupies an unprecedented place…


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Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

Never trust a writing “expert”

I had the great misfortune recently to see an enormous volume of bad writing advice passed around in public by bored writers. Trust me, I’ve given plenty of silly, misguided, naive or just plain ridiculous writing advice in my day. After all, I used to be a high school English teacher, back when I had no business teaching anybody anything at all. …


This Is Us

She doesn’t pay rent, but we’re doing okay

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Detail from “The Bowden Children,” John Hoppner, 1803

My dead roommate broke a dish the other day, so we had to have a talk. I’ll call her Annie, since she’s a ghost and can’t consent to being included in this essay. I like to ask permission for things like that. But I will tell you about our chat.

Annie decorated this home, when she was alive. She was the original owner and purchased the place about 30 years ago when this suburban New Jersey development was built. It’s a very nice apartment with a soaring three-story great room, two bedrooms, two full bathrooms, and one half-bath. It’s got…


Death, birth, and refined carbohydrates.

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I am surrounded by a dead woman’s things. She died in her eighties, a retired teacher beloved by many. I rent her furnished place. It is over twice the size of the one-bedroom apartment for which I paid a little bit more back in Los Angeles. I lived in that city for eight years, and now I live here.

I have been told so many times that the original owner did not expire in this house that I am almost certain she did. I am surrounded by her eclectic collection of framed paintings and prints, so I know that she…


Past Is Prologue

Love is strange

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Los Feliz, Los Angeles, California, September 11, 2020. Photo: Sela Shiloni

I fell in love with a guy from New England before I knew anything about him, except his art. This is a dangerous practice, as anyone who has spent time with an artist of any sort can surely tell you.

I should know better. I do know better. But I swear this time it’s different.

I found out everything I could about him through the usual channels — not obsessively, mind you, nothing creepy. I made certain inquiries. I’m like that when I’m interested in somebody, as a friend or otherwise. I want to know where they came from so…


This Is Us

Seriously.

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Photo courtesy of the author.

California is America, only more so. That’s its burden and its gift. It’s so big and tiny, crowded and empty, foggy and smoky yet bright and shining, and it shakes. If you drive the whole length of the thing, 770 miles from top to bottom, you’re going to need some great driving music. If you’re cool, you’ll blast a playlist of all the newer stuff that I never know about until it’s not hip anymore.

I do get to it, though. I’m a late bloomer and I travel slow, but I catch up eventually.

Recently, I asked some savvy friends…


Mind Games

An agoraphobe’s advice on how to go out again

A photo of a red door in an empty room with bright yellow walls.
A photo of a red door in an empty room with bright yellow walls.
Photo: oxygen/Getty Images

Since the stay-at-home orders began in the United States in mid-March, I’ve been asked the same question over and over: “What is this like for you, since you’re, you know, agoraphobic?”

Journalists ask The Question while interviewing me for stories about working from home or about creativity or about mental health. These are the only three things I am interviewed about, except when I am on a book tour or when the BBC World Service needs someone awake at 2 a.m. to say funny things about an unfolding American pop culture contretemps or sweet things about a newly dead comedian…


This Is Us

How we talk to the dead

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Wee Kirk o’ the Heather, Forest Lawn Memorial Park, April 19, 2020. Photo courtesy of the author.

I went to the cemetery the other day, not for any particular reason other than we are still allowed to go to cemeteries, at least for now. Ordinary funeral gatherings are not permitted at this moment here in Los Angeles, a city of four million people that spreads out over 469 square miles. I could not find the number of deaths due to Covid-19 within city limits, but Los Angeles County has lost 848 people to this pandemic. By the time you read this, more will be gone.

I’m from Hunterdon County, a rural area in New Jersey that takes…

Sara Benincasa

Author, REAL ARTISTS HAVE DAY JOBS (and other books). Writer of scripts. Host of WELL, THIS ISN’T NORMAL podcast. Patreon.com/SaraBenincasa

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