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London is on lockdown and I’m going to a friend’s house for dinner.

Something about it feels like a renegade move, like I should arrive wearing shades, boots and a bullet belt slung across my chest. But I comb through the government advice and find I’m not the rebel I imagined. …

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Photos courtesy of the author

I’m teetering on the roof-edge of a concrete tomb. The air is filled with the scent of sweat and rum, and I’m being jostled from all sides by excitable, dancing men, hollering announcements in Malagasy to the surrounding crowd of two or three thousand people. They wave their arms, swaying to the upbeat trumpets of the brass band. We inhale dust as, below us, men in baseball caps drive shovels into the dry, compacted earth. The crowd waits eagerly, many of them clutching rolled-up straw mats. They demand the men dig faster, and bring out their dead.

So, you know, basically a typical Friday. …

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Illustration: César Pelizer

If 2018 was the year of the personal newsletter, it would explain why 2019 is the year of inboxes crammed with newsletters we just don’t have time to read and can’t bring ourselves to unsubscribe to. Sure, 2018 arguably perpetrated worse crimes against human sanity — children trolled for not wanting to be shot at school, families separated at the border, wildfires soundtracked by further denial of the climate emergency — but still, I’m reserving a small space for newsletter resentment. Here’s why.

I now feel guilty for not doing a newsletter

Many writers I admire started knocking politely on the door of my inbox last year, offering monthly or even weekly updates on their lives, reading habits, and travel jaunts. I started wondering, Am I supposed to be doing a newsletter? Am I even a writer without one? (Spoiler: yes.) Am I supposed to be “building my brand” in this same way, creating weekly or monthly hype around myself as a walking, talking product?


Erica Buist

Writer, journalist, author. First book THIS PARTY’S DEAD coming in Feb 2021 from Unbound. Preorder: unbound.com/books/deathtivals

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