What happens when we unhook our sense of self-worth from our accomplishments?

A woman leans against a wall with her eyes closed.
A woman leans against a wall with her eyes closed.
Photo: Btihal Remli/Moment/Getty Images

Last month, a Twitter user with the alias stfutony posted a story prompt of sorts, though it was styled more like an ominous dare. “There’s only one month left in the decade,” the now-deleted tweet read. “What have you accomplished?”

Social media thrives on material like this, and that’s no surprise: The question supplied an invitation to craft a decade-spanning retrospective broadcasting our productivity and moxie. By publicizing our accomplishments, we identify ourselves as robust performers within the systems that impose themselves upon us — fetishized consumerism, endless and ever more precarious labor, and heteronormative familial arrangements. …

Bodies give, and bodies destroy

Illustration by Louisa Bertman

Housing a pair of ovaries begets all manner of peculiar circumstances, but one of the most distinct endemic oddities is the sensation of someone touching them. I was nearly eighteen before I experienced it. Until then, my reproductive equipment chiefly manifested as textual, rather than felt — jumbled words and diagrams, a sapless explanatory narrative of something that, despite its physical detachment, seemed vaguely lewd. Then, in high school, when my periods became excruciating, I was intermittently alerted to their residence. Each month, the howl of menstrual cramps gestured to the tumble at the bottom of me. But more often…

Or, how to know when to leave

Image: Celei/Getty

This is the story of how I decided to leave my first marriage. It is also a story of self-reckoning in which I teeter and stumble to a realization that despite the myth I’ve long treated as truth, I can, and must, trust myself. The narrative concludes happily, more or less. But I cannot supply you with the ending — resolving, at last, to leave — without explaining to you why I chose to marry in the first place.

By the time I was dating the man who would become my ex-husband, I had conceded to a specific account of…

The lowbrow pleasures of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos

Photo by Chinchilla/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

My pioneer foray into the decadence of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos takes us to Venice Beach on Memorial Day weekend in 2016. Now and then, a chilly breeze would slice through the bands of sunlight warming my face and shoulders like the soft enclosure of a palm. I was sitting with friends on a patchwork of towels, littered with snacks. Drowsy and a little bit stoned, I was disinclined to test the water and instead sifted through the gleaming, polychromatic bags — every one of them offering some form of sodium-rich extravagance. …

Where it’s always balmy summer or a gently crisp fall.

Image: Soe Lin

Over the course of my tenure as a Guster fan, I attended only one of their concerts. They performed at my alma mater, the College of William and Mary, on Homecoming weekend the fall after I graduated. That’s a fitting context for a Guster show if ever there was one: inside a gasp of collegiate nostalgia, where I was both haunted and seduced by my past selves. At the time this felt like comfortable pseudo-regression. I wasn’t ready to be somebody else yet.

Thankfully, Guster doesn’t write the sort of songs that demand assertiveness or resolution — though they do…

Life lessons and erotic discovery through music.

When I was twelve years old, Sarah McLachlan convinced me that I ought to lose my virginity atop a cathedral altar. Tucked underneath my sheets, a Walkman safeguarded against my thumping, tabular chest, I would summon “Possession” (taped from the radio, no doubt) and squeeze my eyes shut. My understanding of sex was that it was a gauzy, mystified thing, “Voices trapped in yearning, memories trapped in time,” she crooned, narrating the dream that shot incandescent threads beneath my skin. Straining, I could just see it: me, standing beneath vaulted stain glass, trembling in a white nightgown and grazed with…

Rachel Vorona Cote

Your emotional surgeon, according to some.

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