Kelly and Samantha celebrating the latter’s 25th birthday in 2008
Kelly Davis and Samantha Powell met 17 Septembers ago while freshmen in college. Back then we both had chemically straightened hair. Nearly 17 Septembers later, neither of us do. Kelly lives in New York City and works in public health although sometimes she writes. Samantha lives in Los Angeles and works in finance although sometimes she writes, too. We have shared a campus, a neighborhood, and beds, but this is the farthest we've ever lived apart. We both turned 35 recently and have been having a number of EMOTIONS about that fact. So we had a rambling phone chat that went everywhere (books, dating, Samantha’s recent obsession with popsicles), which is really the only way to chat with your best friend.
Kelly: Our nation right now is giving me lots of feelings. I'm actually I think suffering a little bit from exhaustion and it's been hard to justify taking care of myself.
Kelly: One, it's new. It's not something I'm used to doing. The second thing is taking care of yourself is expensive and bumps against my own conversation about what I am worth or what peace of mind or a good life is worth. When we were 25, we would laugh about having "quarter-life" crises but that shit was nothing. And now ten years later, you're like actually "what do you really want out of life?" and "What kind of life do you want to live?" It has new gravity. Like gravity is just hitting everywhere. It's hitting my chin. It's hitting under my eyes. It's hitting my tits. It's hitting my decisions. Tragic.
Samantha: I feel all of that, too. I don't necessarily feel unhappy or, like, unhappy like I felt in my 20s when things were very bad. But I feel meh. Things are fine but also they're not moving anywhere necessarily. It's like I'm treading water.
Samantha: Obviously the very basic dreams of 16-year-old Samantha are not what I expect anymore. But things aren't moving forward in the way that I had hoped even in the revised dreams of my early 30s and late 20s. One, it feels hard to accomplish anything right now in the general messiness of the world. But even if the world were a little less messy, I don't know that I would know how to push myself forward in that way.
Kelly: The exhaustion piece comes into that. When you're treading water, you're not going anywhere, but if you stop treading water, you fucking drown. You don't have the luxury to be like "let me figure out exactly what I want" because shit is real so you have to keep on keeping on. You don't have the luxury of ideation, which I feel like you really need in order to make a substantive life change. And it's fucking demoralizing! It's like, okay, yes, I changed from my desires of marrying Boris Kodjoe and living in a mansion.
I mean, this is a viable dream for some lucky person
Samantha: [uproarious laughter]
Kelly: So the idea that I had at 18, I mourned those a long time ago. I'm not on Plan A and that's fine. But I feel like I'm on Plan Q and it’s exhausting. You know, something has to work out.
Samantha: I feel besides taking care of yourself being expensive, I think I also find some of the things that people are like "take a moment and get a facial" or whatever is like, it makes me feel better, like it's nice and I really like it and it makes me feel a little better but like not, it's not like...I mean it's not unhelpful...
Kelly: But it's not transformative, right? Like if Audre Lorde knew that #selfcare was white girls in a bubble bath, she would dig her way out and burn down a house.
Samantha: [laughs] I've been thinking about that so much recently. Any time someone mentions it and it's like "I put on a sheet mask," and personally I love a sheet mask, but when someone uses that specific phrase in reference to something like that, I think that she must be constantly spinning in her grave.
Kelly: She is! She is! She's putting hexes on all the straight white chicks who do that.
Kelly: The truth, Samantha, is that self-care doesn't feel good. Going to the gym doesn't feel good. Being in therapy doesn't feel good. Cutting off men who don't treat you feel with respect doesn't feel good. It's all very stressful. But it's imperative, doing that spiritual work.
Samantha: But work that isn't attached to pleasure.
Kelly: Right! It's shit you can't buy. I love massages. I'm gonna put that out there. I pay people to touch me. As you know, you changed my life with The Now. But those things are a band-aid on a bullet wound-- a spiritual, emotional, metaphysical bullet wound. It's not really a structural, systemic change. I feel like you made a structural, systemic change, right? You got a new job. You became a writer. But there is still this malaise. I think it's going to require you being still and doing things that are uncomfortable but good for you.
Samantha: I have a real problem being still now. I used to be really good at it. My mind could be still and my body could be still. I miss that and I need it, but I have trouble in the state that I'm in right now actually doing it.
Kelly: How do you cultivate mindfulness or self-reflection in service of transformation or clarity? I have the same problem and certain things take over like food or drinking or staying busy because I can't be still with myself. But I also know that no one's going to find their way into my heart if I can't be still and be present. And I think it's hard to, with the way the nation is right now, to feel affirmed when I leave my house. How do black people find love in The Age of Trump? I'm always looking over my shoulder. My spirit is not settled, and that is something you need to have, not necessarily for a relationship, but even to have good sex with a person you trust. It requires letting your walls down. Trusting men, and white men in particular, in this era is hard.
Samantha: I went back on Bumble recently and...
Kelly: [groans] Oh my god. Bumble is under the guise of being women-led, and what fucks you up. You're like "oh, I have a chance" because if I match with you theoretically you should be interested. And it doesn't work that way.
Samantha: No it doesn't.
Oh, the tedium
Kelly: Although I do need a course in what to first say to a person you don't know that you want to maybe bone you.
Samantha: I like to ask a follow-up question based on something they've mentioned in their profile, because I feel then they have to give an answer. It leaves it open-ended.
Kelly: I try to communicate through GIFs, but I'm just bad at it. I'm bad at it.
Samantha: It's a two-fold problem. One problem is that I don't get many matches. The second problem is that I'm bad at the introduction. I'm very good at doing this for people who aren't me. It's like how you can't tickle yourself. A friend gave me her phone and asked if I would help because she knows that I am a writer, and it was so easy. A weight was lifted because it wasn't for myself.
Kelly: So maybe this is your new job, your new part-time job. I need help. You would do so good for me! I'm gonna come to LA and give you my phone and maybe I can have sex. [laughs]
Samantha: [laughs] It's finally like not super hot here. 4th of July weekend was actually hell.
Kelly: It's really hot. I'm like sweaty before I leave my house. Oh my gosh. I expect there to be a whole aquamarine ecosystem in my bra every day by the time I get home.
What if summer, but too much?
Kelly: I lift them up and just...ugh.
Samantha: I still don't understand why someone hasn't made a not sports bra out of sweat wicking material.
Kelly: We need to talk to an engineer.
Samantha: Maybe they could use the material they use to make Thinx underwear, which apparently feels dry.
Kelly. It does! You know, I read what you sent me about the period blanket and I want it so bad.
Kelly: I want it sooooo bad.
Samantha: It's pretty ingenious. But we're supposed to have a heatwave again this week. I'm not looking forward to that.
Kelly: What do you do when that happens?
Samantha: Last time I bought a lot of popsicles.
Kelly: Besides that.
Samantha: I don't spend as much time in my room as I usually would, and, as a result, I end up spending a lot more money. Also I have this necklace that my mom got me. It looks like a necklace that you might get at like Eileen Fisher. It's a string of very large, fabric-covered balls. You keep it in the freezer and then you can take it out and wear it, so it keeps you cool.
Kelly: Like a teething necklace for adults?
Samantha: Yeah. And I put that on when I got to bed.
Kelly: When you go to bed?!?
Samantha: Yup! The problem is that it can't stay cold forever, so I wake up at around three in the morning in a heat rage.
Kelly: You need two or three of them so you can cycle them in and out.
Samantha: I should ask my mom to get me another one.
Kelly: She needs to get you another one.
Samantha: It's going to be hot here until mid-October, which is one of the things that I'm still not used to.
Kelly: I love it. I'm like "what do I need to do with the last six weeks of warmth?" because by September 15th, it's a wrap. And then you have a fall that's exactly three weeks long. And then by the time Halloween rolls around, it's winter.
Kelly: I realized this is the time for you to read a really, really good book. What are you reading? I mean, besides Crazy Rich Asians.
Oh, it’s such a perfect day / I’m glad I spent it with books (and tunes)
Samantha: Well I finished Crazy Rich Asians so currently I'm reading The Sympathizer. It won the Pulitzer in 2016.
Kelly: What is it about?
Samantha: It's about a Vietnamese guy who is a double agent during The Vietnam War. He's actually a communist but is undercover in the South Vietnamese Army. He ends up in the US, in Los Angeles actually, and continues to act as a double agent reporting on the members of the South Vietnamese Army who were evacuated from Saigon before it fell. It's really good.
Kelly: That’s a lot.
Samantha: [chuckles] It is a lot but it's not as much as you think it is. It has a lot of very very sharp observations about white people. [chuckles]
Kelly: Well you know I'm always here for that.
Samantha: [laughs] It's darkly comic in some ways.
Kelly: That's what I was waiting for you to tell me. Am I going to be totally devastated or...
Samantha: No, it's not that type of book, at least not so far.
Kelly: That plot was doing me in.
Samantha: I'm also reading a book for my history book club.
Kelly: Of course you are.
Samantha: And then I have another romance novel that I bought at the LA Times Festival of Books, My Oxford Year, but I haven't gotten to it yet. Before The Sympathizer I was reading a book of short stories by Mavis Gallant.
Kelly: You're doing so great! One of my to-dos is to send you some books in the mail.
Samantha: I have so many books I've been meaning to read, like Zadie Smith's most recent book of essays.
Kelly: Feel Free or the other one?
Samantha: Feel Free. I've read the other one.
Kelly: How dismissive. You're like "Excuse me, I'm sorry."
Samantha: [laughs] No, no. That came out when I was living in Boston in 2010, and I was reading pretty much constantly to distract myself from everything else. But Feel Free is just sitting here. I think I'll read it after I finish The Sympathizer. And I want to read the sequels to Crazy Rich Asians.
Kelly: China Rich Girlfriend?
Samantha: China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems.
Kelly: Oh, I haven't seen Rich People Problems. Of course we gotta go see the movie. There are some movies I wish I could drink cosmos with you still and then teleport. Like, I can only watch this with you.
Samantha: Yeah. I've been meaning to read the book for years now. So when I saw the movie was happening, I said "well I'm gonna read it." And then I was like "I'm gonna read it, I'm gonna read it, I'm gonna read it" and then suddenly it was like a month before the movie comes out and I was like "okay, you have to actually finally read the book now because it comes out in two weeks." [laughs] But I'm excited. The guy is really hot.
Kelly: Isn't that the Fresh Off the Boat actor guy?
Samantha: No, the girl is the Fresh Off the Boat girl.
Kelly: She's hilarious.
Samantha: Henry Golding doesn't have any acting credits before this. I think he was like a television presenter in England. But yeah, he's super hot. [giggles] I'm very very excited about it. I think it'll be fun.
Samantha: And very pretty to look at, like, not just the people. [giggles] Also the clothes and the sets. And I love Michelle Yeoh, so I'm excited to see her play Eleanor Young.
Kelly: I think that novels are great but these feelings of restlessness, ennui, loneliness, marginalization, make me feel like it's time to sit with some poetry. Novels can distract you but poetry can distract and at the same time help you process those feelings. Rita Dove. Lucille Clifton, honey! I also think there's something poetic about the language of James Baldwin. When you read James Baldwin, you get on fire.
Kelly: I want to hug you so bad!
Samantha: I want to hug you, too!
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