by Réginald-Jérôme de Mans

Those of us who (pace Black Sabbath) sold our soul for #steez know the inner duel. Inside us, our better angels, those attempting to persuade us to better ourselves by looking outward, improving our surroundings, or even getting a real damn hobby, constantly struggle against the voice telling us that each new article of clothing we do not yet have is an essential piece of the puzzle that would complete a picture of the real us. The last piece we bought, the one that seemed like it was the missing key to completing us? It only opened up a new side of the puzzle we hadn’t known existed.

Confinement has not made that duel any less epic. Why the hell have I bought more ties (including the incredibly rare Sulka made with 18-karat gold lame pictured here, purchased late in the evening of November 3rd for some reason) when I’ve worn a button-front shirt once in nine months? The stress catalyzing purchases like these hasn’t gone away, rather the opposite. And along with family members whose feelings we cannot avoid treading on, we are confined with swirling ghosts of self, incorporeal potentialities. Ill-advised stress purchases outfit those distant, expected, manifestations of self once their currently unreachable otherworld has neared.

Our struggle in the current day is the constant risk of succumbing to the purchase of elements to bedeck future selves for situations that we cannot experience now. As with before confinement, it is self-involved and solipsistic, even if each purchase of a currently unnecessary item for that future self whispers that it is actually a small investment in hope. Maybe. In addition to contributing to the possible risk of financial doom, each purchase also carries the risk of disappointment, because for those of us who are immersed in this struggle each new anticipated purchase – inevitably through the mail nowadays – is an increasingly ludicrous promise of a completely new self.

What does the compulsion struggle against? These are solitary pleasures: even at times when people could safely frequent each other, every #iGent has learned that no one but our fellow obsessives -- cares about our newest accretion. (My e-friends have lost no time already telling me what a tasteless dork I am for stress-buying the Sulka tie.) This escapist lust for more and more things to orbit the self, like the meaningless, ever more dangerous cloud of space junk, confronts a desire for escape velocity. To break out of our cloud of self-involvement, which can enforce isolation even when society does not, and invest in others.

One of the simplest yearnings: to be around others, to open one’s house and share self without imposing judgment or expectation. Simple yet even before our distanced year, rare in practice in our overworked middle-class lives. A friend was the best at it, humble, thoughtful, a wonderful chef and host, knowing everyone and having us all over several times a year to fill up his house and backyard, for homemade gumbo and potluck desserts. Whatever our walk of life, presence of children or level of shyness, he accepted us, found something to talk about, even recognizing the Mr. Bungle album I had lying around as something he hadn’t encountered since his time in the military.

Driving through a tangle of highways, the ones we had to navigate to reach his area, recently reminded me that we would never again be visiting him. Early in confinement he suddenly died, alone at his home, while quarantining. This is for him, and for the dozens of us who met again over multiple remembrance sessions, dozens of us who knew each other from his parties and who each had stories of his support and generosity, vowing that we would keep his tradition alive by opening our houses to friends and acquaintances who could become friends, in safer times. Let thoughts not just of our frustrated, overwhelmed selves be with us during this time, but of others we want to live up to, others who encourage us to look beyond what we’ve crowded and clouded ourselves with to a different time and to different people.