FIVE FOR FRIDAY: 10 September

It's Friday, and en route to grabbing my laptop from upstairs, I just discovered one of my cats sitting outside on the balcony waiting patiently for the cat flap to open for him.

He knows how to use the cat flap, but he forgets on an alarmingly regular basis (I'm not sure what goes on in his lovely little cat brain).

So, he just sits there, staring pitifully through the rectangle of transparent rubber until someone, or the other cat, rescues him.

Jokes aside, I can't help but wonder whether there's an apt analogy lurking here: perhaps we all have our own impenetrable cat flaps, an illusory aperture keeping us inexplicably stuck. Life lately has felt like an endless looking through, a sense of being separated from where I need to go by a filmy barrier, knowing I simply need to push against it and find my way into the room — but it's a lesson I must learn over and over.

I confessed to a colleague earlier today: 'My idea of heaven is never having to advocate for myself ever again.'

Everyone I speak to at the moment — no matter where they are or what else is going on — seems similarly ragged and discouraged. Is 2021 wearing you out?

If so, please accept a hug through the ether.

And here are some things I've been enjoying lately.

One. If you've been toying with the idea of 'embracing your greys', as the saying goes, this photo essay from the New Yorker about the 'unexpected beauty of COVID hair' might just be the nudge you need. I also enjoyed this piece about the 'rise of therapy speak', which revisits some of the themes Frank Furedi wrote about in Therapy Culture more than a decade ago. 'We joke about our coping mechanisms, codependent relationships, and avoidant attachment styles,' Katy Waldman writes. 'We practice self-care and shun “toxic” acquaintances. We project and decathect; we are triggered, we say wryly, adding that we dislike the word; we catastrophize, ruminate, press on the wound, process. We feel seen and we feel heard, or we feel unseen and we feel unheard, or we feel heard but not listened to, not actively.'

Two. I recently rewatched the first two seasons of The Secret Life of Us on Netflix. The series aired in my final year of high school (2001), so feelings of nostalgia ran high, and this article by Deirdre Fidge perfectly captured some of the pleasures and discomforts associated with 'a vision of young adulthood that not only didn’t exist for me, but might not exist at all'.

Three. How do you find new songs? I don't listen to the radio anymore, so I rely on recommendations from friends or the occasional tune Shazam-ed while I wait in line at a café. I have no idea where I heard 'Hesitate' by Golden Vessel & Emerson Leif, but I can't stop playing it. Apple Music. YouTube. Spotify.

Four. Having failed at making traditional cacio e pepe on numerous occasions, I decided to try a vegan recipe instead. Perfect for lazy Friday nights, this cashew cheese makes an excellent sauce for twisty pasta. I scoop some into a saucepan of cooked rotini with a splash of olive oil, some extra salt, and a generous dusting of freshly cracked pepper. (If you've also tried and failed in your cacio e pepe attempts, this episode of 'Botched by Babish' might help you feel better.)

Five. It's been ages since I've last read a novel, but a friend game me a copy of Emily Maguire's Love Objects for my birthday, and I finally got around to reading it. At first, I struggled with some of the content (one of the protagonists is a pathological hoarder, and it hit a little close to home, quite literally — I come from a family of hoarders), and the idiomatic stream-of-consciousness style requires some close concentration. But by halfway through, I couldn't put the book down.

Love Objects starts with a fall: 40-something-year-old Nicole tumbles from a dresser in her cluttered bedroom, discovered several days later by her worried niece, Lena. When a hospital-based social worker asks Lena to ensure her auntie's house is safely tidied for her return, she and her brother, Will, embark on a cleaning spree that risks undoing their close relationship. But each character is dealing with circumstances that undermine their sense of autonomy and control — circumstances that lay bare some of the complexities of class relations in Australia and the fine line we must often tread between empowerment and exposure.

I enjoyed the tenderness and authenticity of this novel, and I'm even considering lending it to my father. You can find out more about Emily's research and writing process here.

(It's just as fascinating as the novel itself.)

What have you been enjoying lately?