Sweet Unrest

imagine if Keats had a newsletter

It’d look nothing like this, probably.

But the nineteenth century’s star consumptive poet has always been my blog’s ersatz muse, and so, accordingly, we invoke his words upon this newsletter’s maiden voyage:

There is nothing stable in the world; uproar’s your only music.

And what music 2020 has given us.

Welcome to Sweet Unrest: the newsletter edition!

As I prepare to embark on my first actual writing degree this fall (in journalism), I have decided to create this Monthly Newsletter as an opportunity to share with you the writing from the Sweet Unrest vaults, writing that appears in other outlets, and the writings of others whom I admire.

I’ve sent this inaugural note to You, because you are either a friend, a family member, a colleague, you have published my writing, you once gave me a compliment (which I have never forgotten!), or you once asked me: what kind of writing do you do? This newsletter is my effort at a response

If you’re not interested, please do hit unsubscribe, without compunction or concern! Letters become so irksome to me, said Keats himself, that the next time I leave London I shall petition them all to be spar’d me. Keats was all talk, no game, and so kept writing and receiving letters unto his bitter Roman end. But you don’t have to be like him. Let not these scribblings stand in the way of your mental, emotional, and epistolatory clarity. You can achieve Inbox Zero, a thing Keats never did.

If you are interested — let’s begin! Make yourself at home, let your hair down, take off your shoes, enjoy the newsletter with coffee or a cuppa on your favorite couch, front porch, or park bench, with a cat purring in your lap like the whir of cotton spindles rapidly revolutionizing Keat’s England into an industrial phantasmagoria—

but I am nigh getting into a rant, to borrow J.K.’s well-worn phrase. So let us lay aside all discussion of revolutions—industrial or no—for a moment and turn to sweeter unrests than civil.


Affectionately yours,

Keats in the Sheets

“There is no greater Sin after the 7 deadly than to flatter oneself into an idea of being a great Poet”— to Benjamin Robert Haydon, May 1817

Long time fans of the blog have noted that last fall, Sweet Unrest got an upgrade from Blogger to WordPress, the egalitarian publishing platform used by the New York Post and New Yorker alike. I miss Blogger’s “grandma’s wallpaper” aesthetic (as a friend once dubbed it) but growing up is not a rose garden.

This spring, the most visited blog post on the new site was “Morning Prayer with Robins.” Spring 2020 has been a season of simple morning routines, prayer with coffee, and lots of birdwatching, so it feels appropriate to share a piece that in many ways encapsulates the spirit of spring in a city shuttered and sheltered in place. But even the city a skeleton of its former self teems with life—and grace.

What is the language of my own prayer? I wondered. And I realized it is not prayer to a distant God, but one who is near. Invocations I am most familiar with—in liturgy, in private prayer, in the structure of intercessory imagination that I have build my own life on—is to pray for God to be with us. The prayer is most often not that God would act but that we might see where God is working.

Not that God intercede on our behalf, but that God be with us.

Perhaps this is a weak prayer, a prayer that is hedging its bets, playing it safe, scared of losing, scared of not being heard. Scared of bad things happening despite God’s actions and our righteousness.

Read the full post here.

Keats in the Streets

“I am however young, writing at random—straining at particles of light in the midst of a great darkness” to George & Georgiana Keats, May 1819

—Sweet Unrest stylings out in the world—

This past December, I got the Christmas gift every woman wants—free review copies of a Rebecca Solnit book. I had the delightful assignment of writing reviews of Rebecca Solnit’s urban atlas trilogy for America’s spring literary review.

Rebecca Solnit rates with Hans Urs Von Balthasar as a thinker whose thought has not only shaped mine but continues to provide fresh inspiration for thinking about the things I care about. My first year in New York City, my good friend Mara gave me Solnit’s series of essays Men Explain Things to Me, and I devoured it while proctoring study halls back in the Cristo Rey days. Solnit’s insights changed my outlook on the world the way only reading about the systemic subjugation of women and the IMF’s ravaging of countries’ debts can. If you’re looking for a good place to start with Solnit, these atlases are a beautiful introduction to her particular form of democratic radicalism via beloved, emblematic American cities—San Francisco, New Orleans, and New York.

When I received this assignment I was thrilled with the question the project posed from its first moment: what does it mean to “review” an atlas? The puzzle of sussing out the guiding principles of Solnit’s project, and marking my own way through her magnificently rendered cities was a delightful beginning to a year in which my own physical traveling has been seriously curtailed.

As the opening vignette about the afternoons my brother Sam and I spent inventing journeys for our toy dinosaurs indicates, to think about a place is to think about, and with, memory. As aggregations of communal memories, places are always invitations to remember: to dig into the locations in our mind where who and what we are dwells—the small islands that collectively form the archipelago of our selves.

All maps, not just those illustrated mazes, contain an inherent tension between going and staying. We consult maps in order to leave: which highways to merge onto, which exit to make, which turn to take. But we also make maps to know where we are: to get our bearings, to grow roots. Maps orient us, help us see where we are. A map is often a route to remaining.

Like language, cartography is a miracle that insists the unique slice of universe we view from the perspective of our own minds and hearts is—against all odds—expressible. Our memories and feelings are communicable, circumnavigable. I can tell you “I am sad,” and you can navigate with me the choppy waters of sorrow. I can promise “I love you,” and, suddenly, we have mapped a route to remaining.

Read the full article here.

Keats Reads

“The Literary world I know nothing about” to George & Georgiana Keats, Feb 1819

—Highlights from the Good Reads shelf—

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

Fulfilling our lifelong dreams and destinies as arts and letters majors, my friend Brigid and I started a book club this year. Despite the transition to virtual meetings, our circle of readers has continued to meet with gusto, and this particular book from our May meeting was one of the most moving stories I’ve read all year.

In September, our collective of (all-female) readers nominated (all-female) novels and one memoir to read throughout this year. It’s a group comprised of many English majors and teachers, deep thinkers, and lovers of all things literary. Learning from these fellow readers during our discussion has made me a better reader not merely of the book we read together, but of the other literature I consume.

I read Christy Lefteri’s heart-breaking novel about Syrian refugees forging a new life in England in a single sitting—one very sunny Sunday morning in the park.

The Syrian Civil War and refugee crisis have spent so long in our headlines and on our consciousness that it is far too easy to grow numb to the human lives that make up this crisis and the raw pain they endure. Lefteri’s novel captures the level of devastation it takes to uproot someone from their home in the first place, and then, once sundered from home, country, and community, how utterly without recourse to the basic dignities of human existence a person becomes.

Throughout the labyrinthine nightmare of the refugee journey, Lefteri’s protagonist, Nuri, clings to various threads of belonging and human dignity, and we the readers cling to them just as tightly. And, although the book does not shy away from realistically portraying what couples like Nuri and Afra endure each day, the threads of belonging do not snap. The tenacity of tenderness, the continuing gift of love and understanding are lifelines that can anchor people to one another, even in an unspeakably cruel world. The book is, like the best stories, a story of love that can see us to the other side of many deaths.

Mr. Brown’s Bylines

“Brown, who is always one’s friend in a disaster, applied a leech to the eyelid, and there is no inflammation this morning though the ball hit me on the sight.” to George & Georgiana Keats, May 1819

—Pieces from good friends, and from writers whose words have been a friend to me—

  • Maddie Jarrett, “Are All Welcome?”, Commonweal

    But accessibility issues are also a matter of Catholic identity, and one of the most fundamental elements of that identity is our sacramental worldview—the belief that the material world can mediate God’s grace to us.

    Read the full reflection here. 

  • Katherine Rundell, “Consider the Greenland Shark”, London Review of Books

    As he wrote, a Greenland shark who is still alive today swam untroubled through the waters of the northern seas. Its parents would have been old enough to have lived alongside Dante; its great-great-grandparents alongside Julius Caesar. For thousands of years Greenland sharks have swum in silence, as above them the world has burned, rebuilt, burned again.

    Read this absolutely charming paean to the world’s grossest fish here.

  • Sarah Cahalan, “A Balm in Gilead”, University of Chicago Magazine,

    “Very early on, we came up with a version of the statement, ‘We want to be church for and with people who have been told or made to feel that church isn’t for them,’” Anderson recalls.

    Read Sarah’s full article here.

  • Elizabeth Alexander, “The Trayvon Generation,” The New Yorker

    What does it mean to be a lucky mother, when so many of my sisters have had their children taken from them by this hatred? 

    Read the rest of this haunting essay here.