Issue 16: SSRBi 💊
Wordle vs. Depression and an excerpt from Rachel Krantz's OPEN.
How are things? You sleeping? Drinking enough water? Playing Wordle? I sure hope so. For the past decade (by which I mean the last three weeks of January), Wordle has been the best part of my daily routine, single-handedly keeping my mood stabilized. That’s a challenging task these days, because your girl is D-E-P-R-E-S-S-E-D. I only recently acknowledged this fact, mostly because I sat down to write a short story and what came out were 3000 words about a queer person who can’t move, text back, or clean up after themselves. I probably still would’ve dismissed it as fiction, except my workshop classmates gave feedback that the story’s descriptions of depression were “super relatable” and “spot-on.” (At first I was like, THANK YOU! But then I was like, fuck.)
In hindsight, it’s obvious that I’ve been depressed for months—I started feeling this way (or rather, stopped feeling much of anything) long before my writing revealed myself to me. But—and I hope the ever-hostile internet will forgive me for what I’m about to say: If reality has been a tunnel, Wordle has been a light.
Journalists and psychologists alike have already attempted to dissect Wordle’s magic. But why let them have all the fun? I don’t have much going on these days, so it’s my turn to write a Wordle think piece no one asked for. Here’s the thesis: I love Wordle partially because of the game itself (it’s fun, I guess), but mostly because of its social element, which I legitimately believe has helped me interact with people again.
Every morning plays out like this:
Right as I’m snoozing my iPhone for the third time, my friend Courtney completes her Wordle and shares the results to our group thread. Her text serves as my real alarm, filled with urgency (the Marimba ringtone could never). I shake myself awake, tug my phone off its charger, and hope I’ll wow my friends today.
Courtney’s green and yellow boxes serve as our racetrack’s checkered flag—not just for me, but for all of us. Another score appears in the thread, then another. Courtney is a strong player (I’m not), so her results often give an indication of what mine will be: If she got it in 3, I’ll get it 5; if she got it in 6, I’ll lose.
I play. Courtney got it in 3, so I get it in 5. I share my lackluster results to the thread along with an “smh” to demonstrate self-awareness. Then I thought-spiral about my arbitrary commitment to starting with the word REACH.
This text thread, dubbed NYCRÜ (it’s an awful name, and I assure you, we’ve discussed that at length), is a relic from the Before Times, and has always been known for reinventing itself. In 2018, NYCRÜ held ticket links to drag shows, concerts, and limited-run movies at IFC. In March 2020, NYCRÜ became my primary news source—friends shared the latest horrifying articles about COVID-19 (and eventually: links to cute masks). In November 2020, NYCRÜ offered solace, a place for us to share memes and tweets about the election. Throughout 2021, NYCRÜ mostly consisted of me, shamelessly promoting my book (read: it was a lot like this newsletter). And for most of January 2022, it’s been Wordle everything, all the time.
I have another Wordle group too, a text chain with four friends from high school. The momentum of this thread once ebbed and flowed—for years, conversation only bubbled up every few months, if someone had high school gossip to share. Now our daily results shares give way to a steady stream of communication—after Wordle scores open the text floodgates for us, we share Zillow links, baby pictures, TV reccos, crypto advice, and updates on our jobs. I feel more up-to-date with these friends’ daily lives than ever before, and I have this five-letter word game to thank.
It’s not groundbreaking whatsoever to say that COVID has impacted our relationships. Casual interactions with strangers (like chatting with a shop-owner or flirting with your barista) have become rare occurrences. It’s easier than ever to decline a birthday invite for someone’s friend’s coworker’s wife. Gone are the days when we make false promises to acquaintances about grabbing a drink together someday, because it’s hard enough to follow-through on real promises with those real friends we actually do want to see.
But for me and the millions of Americans who’ve spent most of the pandemic anxious and/or depressed, it is groundbreaking to think that we might get to reinvigorate our deepest human connections and finally enjoy the presence of people we love again. “Presence,” of course, is a loaded word in a world that’s still primarily remote, and therein lies the challenge: If we want to embrace these small wins, we also have to comprehend that today’s version of ~togetherness~ doesn’t look the same as it once did.
As basic as this sounds, socializing used to be my favorite hobby. I often planned 2-3 after-work activities on weekdays. WEEKDAYS. Today, my Soho Houseian energy of yore not only disgusts me—it confounds me. Because I have no choice but to compare it to where I’ve been for the past year, which looks something like this:
Things have been hard for a while, but the last few months have been especially rough. Since mid-November I’ve cancelled almost every set of plans, whether due to COVID or insurance company miscommunications or weather or weed-related challenges (our dog ate an edible, it’s fine he’s fine) or dehydration or simply not having the stamina to go outside. I don’t think I realized how much deja vu and hopelessness these cancellations caused, and I certainly didn’t think I’d turn things around anytime soon.
But last week I had more social commitments than I’ve had in the past six months, and somehow, I didn’t cancel any of them. I drank Lambrusco in a bookstore, hung out with fellow authors, ate fajitas with an old friend, drank mezcal with a new friend, hosted a book launch event, played board games during a snowstorm, and watched horror movies with Brinley on our couch. I expected that such a packed week would exhaust me, rendering me comatose for the following month. But guess what? Somehow it had the opposite effect—it made me feel slightly human again.
I can’t attribute the entirety of last week’s social life to Wordle and the group threads it reignited. But I also can’t ignore how happy this silly ass game has made me, or the way it has helped me return to my people again. Maybe tomorrow I’ll switch my go-to word from REACH to SMILE, just for fun. (Siri, play “All My Friends” by LCD Soundsystem, and kindly turn it the fuck UP.)
You’ve no doubt heard the expression, “____________ is all we have right now.” Throughout the pandemic, various things have filled that blank: Tiger King. Squid Game. And now Wordle. The game is disgustingly earnest, evidenced by the fact that some people hate it so much they designed a bot to spoil the next day. As we come up on the end of COVID year two, Wordle truly is all we have. But if you look at it through the right light, maybe Wordle is enough.
Introducing Our Extra Special Guest Writer: Rachel Krantz!
Maybe you’ve heard, but I’m obsessed with Rachel Krantz’s reported memoir, Open. It was one of those books that, the moment I finished it, I realized I’d grown as a person just for having read it. This book educated me on everything from polyamory to privilege to healthy relationships, and it did that while keeping me WILDLY entertained (and turning me on a lot too).
I’ll be doing an IG Live with Rachel on 2/10 at 7pm (mark your cals), and I’m honored to include an excerpt from Open in this month’s newsletter. Curl up with some hot cocoa (or lube) and enjoy. ☕️
An excerpt from OPEN: AN UNCENSORED MEMOIR OF LOVE, LIBERATION, AND NON-MONOGAMY
“Open: An Uncensored Memoir of Love, Liberation, and Non-Monogamy is my new book about the experience of my first open, Dom/sub, and queer relationships. In addition to being a sexy adventure, my reported memoir also explores darker themes like gaslighting and other forms of abuse. While writing Open, early readers often told me I was "brave" for being honest about my psychosexual reality. I appreciate that, but my hope is that more and more, it will be normal for women like (and unlike) me to be able to admit to the most “shocking” complexities of their inner romantic lives. Below is the first chapter, which introduces me and Adam—who form the relationship at the center of the book—on our second date.”
Once Upon a Time, a Solitary Maiden Believed Only Somewhat Ironically in Being Rescued . . .
Rachel Journal Entry
I let her convince me to have half a carafe but no more because I knew it would lead me to cheating on [Dan]. . . I would have slept with a woman last night if not for him. . . I feel resentful of not being able to.
I’m waiting for someone to come find me. I believe in being rescued.
“Here,” I said, presenting the bouquet in a casual thrust. “I brought you flowers.”
“You brought me flowers?” I’d managed to disarm him, if only for a moment. I hoped the flowers would send a message: I might be twenty-seven to his thirty-eight, but I was not prey. And I had on the adult-lady-dress I’d found in a giveaway box to prove it.
“Men deserve flowers, too, you know,” I said, as if the idea hadn’t occurred to me an hour ago.
“Well, thanks. I don’t think that’s ever happened before.” Adam’s smile had a slight downward turn to it, amused in a wrung way. It was satisfying to squeeze it out of him. “I think I have a vase here somewhere . . .” I noted his back muscles through his plain white T-shirt as he reached for further proof of his civilized life. Jazz played, and I padded my stockinged feet on his spotless wooden floors as he caramelized onions. I admired titles in English and German, picked books up and put them down like a toddler-cum-anthropologist. I noted the extensive Philip Roth section, The Professor of Desire nestled between Letting Go and The Prague Orgy, the obvious fondness for Updike, Jung, Lacan, Heidegger, Yeats, Freud, and . . . Edith Wharton? At least I’ve read all the Diaz and Lahiri. I’d just broken up with Dan, a guy with neither curtains nor more than ten books—let alone a clean vase. This is progress.
Adam and I stood together in a comfortable yet sexually tense silence as he cooked.
“You know, I think the Groupon massage therapist I’ve been seeing might be molesting me?” Fuck, why did you just say that? I could blame the hit of dried-out herb I’d had before I came, but it was more than that. There was something about Adam that was like going to Jewish confession—kneeling felt imminent.
“Uh, what?” His eyebrows furrowed with concern.
“Well, he tells me to get naked, and each session he sort of inches closer and closer to my pussy. Brushing its sides and occasionally over it, but never fingering me or anything. Telling me to breathe deeply again and again in this pretty sexual way, kind of moaning to demonstrate. . .” Ironically, I’d treated myself to the Groupon package in the hopes that it would help me avoid making romantic decisions based solely on a hunger for touch, an investment I hoped would pay dividends tonight. “Maybe I’m imagining it? Or I’m giving him the feeling I’m into it, you know? Which in a way I am, until he pushes it too far and I keep pulling away, but then he just does it again . . .” Why are you telling him this? “I don’t know, what do you think?”
“I think it sounds like you need a new masseur.” Adam had a definitive way of closing conversations I already found comforting.
Dinner was skillfully done but watching him lick rolling paper for dessert was my preferred pornography. His academic research, he told me as I inhaled, was mainly about the psychology of romantic and sexual desire—specifically, the importance of triangulation.
“Like, there being three people?” I asked.
“Often, yes. It’s one of the most common stories, the love triangle. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Lolita, The Age of Innocence . . .” Twilight, I mentally added. The Hunger Games. “But triangulation is also sometimes just an outside obstacle, maybe not even a person. A war, or distance.”
“I wonder if that’s one subconscious reason people have children,” I tried. “To create a safer form of triangulation than another lover, a constant obstacle to being alone together.”
“Desire can be understood as a feeling of lack,” he said, nodding professorially. “If we believe we have someone in every single way, we usually cease to want them sexually.”
“Seems accurate, but a little sad, too, no?”
“No, it’s not. It’s like physics. Knowing how things work only makes them more beautiful.” He held my gaze with meaning. “I study what’s most important to me. How I might maintain desire. Not just for me, but for my long-term partner.” I nodded; lesson absorbed. I had to admit, I could hardly imagine a topic I’d rather a lover devote their life to studying. My legs were tucked sidesaddle on his wonderfully clean couch. He paused to acknowledge the flesh encased in black tights. “Since your feet are right here and you mentioned earlier you like massage, I’d be happy to work on them for you.” Bold move after my story, and kind of a tone-deaf one? But, I mean, does sound nice . . . just do what you want to do, but don’t think that means you owe him anything. You’re a grown woman tonight. I’d promised myself that this evening was about ushering in a new era of Adult Dating. I would no longer feel I owed a certain debt if I received “too much,” or placed myself “too deep” into a situation. I would do whatever I wanted and nothing more (or less?)— without judgment.
“Okay, sure. Why not,” I said, offering my legs toward him like a second bouquet of flower stems.
Adam’s touch was subtle, consistent, and sure. An exercise in paying attention to what I wanted and taking not a centimeter more, promising me something attuned, patient, giving. His voice deep and at moments gravelly, his highly grabbable biceps flexing as he continued to steer our conversation, my body the clutch. He had a focus more intense than any I’d felt directed at me before. Not even by a therapist, much less a man I found sexy. As he massaged, he kept asking more and more questions, interviewing me as he had on our first date. It was as if he had to get down to the root of me deeply, thoroughly, urgently. Like there was no more pressing subject.
 All primary sources (journal entries, emails, text messages, recorded transcripts) are depicted verbatim. Ellipses indicate where words have been cut; bracketed words are added for clarity.
Excerpted from OPEN copyright © 2022 by Rachel Krantz. Used by permission of Harmony Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.