Post- Magazine

a new nervous system [A&C]

literature, feminine care, and the (non) existent soul

In September of 2023, I published my one (and only) Substack post: “To Care or Not To Care?” The plan was to embark on a journey to “redefine, reconfigure, and reshape how I perceive care” over the course of the semester—the motivation for this first post being both a heart-wrenching breakup (see all my other post- articles for more juicy tidbits!) and a general feeling of malaise. Though it might seem like I quickly gave up on that journey, my Substack withered and dry, the idea of care has been at the top of my mind since.

I read Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric for a class last semester in the middle of finding out that the same ex had a new, cuter girlfriend. I subsequently entered a—in no way related!—depressive slump. Even though the book is a rather intense read, it made me want to care again. Rankine’s ability to make words out of what I had thought were unexplainable feelings made me feel less alone and, in a way, born again. Rankine’s astute perceptiveness reminded me that people are out there noticing, learning, co-witnessing, and caring, despite structures of oppression, capitalism, and violence threatening to bog us down. 


In the experience of picking up a book, caring for the book’s words and characters and physical pages, and even writing and publishing the text, care is being mutually exchanged. Care is beyond gender, but in my lived reality, care has proved to be a rich, embodied, feminine experience. My worldview and sense of self have been deeply shaped by moments of care I've shared specifically with the women and femme people in my life. 

The act of caring, and the feeling of receiving care, resonates deep in my chest. And when I read a piece of moving literature, the same feeling occurs. I hesitate to get spiritual, but this unexplainable feeling is located within me in an impossible-to-place third space: a space some might call a soul.

When I imagine the experience of caring, I imagine it as a keyhole to two universes: to one’s external world and to one’s interiority. Similarly, reading a text can act as an opening to learn both about the universal and the deeply personal. Literature grants the reader permission to come home, wherever home may be. In devouring stories that explore the inner lives of characters, our own abilities to care outside of the realm of literature expand instrumentally. Sure, the act of caring should be accessible without having to crack open a book first (duh). But I think that if we situate literature in the same affectual space as the experience of caring, something magical might happen. We might find the existence of something that looks like joy, or liberation—or a soul. 

The simultaneous experiences of the interior becoming public and the exterior entering the realm of introspection form a binary-defying space. This entirely different plane of existence, a valence beyond and within myself, is something I feel I only have access to in acute moments of both self-realization and engaged external community. In moments that feel so tragic or so wonderful that they must be beyond humanity, yet in fact are moments distinctly reflective of what makes us human in the first place.

These are moments in which I scream: I am here, and I am alive. This cosmic feeling is best manifested for me in small, passing moments. In a sweet, simple gesture. In my roommate bringing their partner a cup of herbal tea every night when they get home. In my mother instinctively knowing that I need a hug, without me asking, even when I don’t have the energy to stretch my arms a mere two feet and hug her back. In finishing a book, tears streaking down my cheeks, knowing I will be fundamentally and irrevocably changed by the letters on the pages of a text that I have read. From White’s The Trumpet Of The Swan, to Zusak’s The Book Thief, to Alvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies, to Morrison’s Beloved, to Behar’s The Vulnerable Observer, literature has molded me throughout my life. I imagine myself as ready to absorb and emit feelings, thoughts, knowledge, and, of course, practices of care. I gleefully accept and relish in the care I am given, and exchange—not as a transaction, but as a labor of love—care to the beloved people, communities, and world around me. 


These are the moments that make me freeze and beg, “don't let me be lonely.” These are the moments that make me chant, that make me sing a hymn in celebration: “Don't let me be lonely!” Because care is liberation. And literature is liberation. Liberation from larger structures of oppression and material violence, as well as from epidemics of loneliness that ravage our country. Equally as important, care and literature can provide joy. I smile when I read on the train, in the Blue Room, or even in the bathroom, where my gasps or grins are for me and me only.  

I feel an overwhelming gratitude for the care I’ve been lucky enough to receive and give; the care that is continuously transforming me, my life, my love. Rankine’s work, and other beloved books, transmit a signal in my brain that says: Stop. Look inward. What makes you care, care to read, care to think, care to care? What texts make you look inward and say my life—your life—is worth caring about, worth fighting for, worthy? All of that is what reading does for me. And it does that through the transmission, the emotional network, that is care. 

Don't Let Me Be Lonely suggests that care can be a salve to personal, community-based, and collective loneliness. Within literature and care is the space for unknown discovery, a space for answers that come in the form of, of course, even more questions. These questions challenge ideas of positionality and privilege, which I would say is a form of self-care and community care: To be reflective. To forge new realities. To imagine new dimensions of being, new possibilities for the way material lived experiences can be. And texts, being a “uniquely portable magic,” inscribe an author’s care into something that can be carried and shared and cared for. Literature has forged in my mind, heart, and body a new nervous system based on networks and transmissions of (gendered) care, empathy, and co-witnessing. 

This piece—and my discarded idea for a Substack series—is an ode to the soulfulness, the liveliness, and the care of the women and the literature around me. The place in my body from which both care and literature exude from, ricochet on, exist, is somewhere high up in my chest. Somewhere near my heart—in something that feels like a soul. A soul that maybe I was born with, or exposed to through reading. Or maybe I was given the opportunity to engage with this “soul” through the care of the women in my life—creating an infinite, new sort of nervous system. A caring, beautiful, sometimes depressed, sometimes lonely nervous system. Perhaps a soul. 

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