Welcome to the Furnace

Bouquet 05 by Hassan Rahim.

Disclaimer: It’s a long edition tonight. I’m not one but two weeks late on this bouquet but I hope it’s with thoughtful reason. Despite setting out my intention of small (weekly) commitments, the last few weeks have steered me towards knowing when to break them and that perhaps less has never meant more.

I still recall and probably will recall for many years to come, the feeling of flailing that came (and returned repeatedly) at the beginning of the pandemic. On the one hand it was alien and terrifying; on the other it teased a tangible chance for individual and global change in a way that’s never been dangled in front of us before.

You could say that we’re halfway through the pandemic’s third quarter and as we press on, it’s becoming more impossible to extricate everything going on in the world from the (often corporate) systems that govern it. I’ve been stewing over everything from personal privacy and data collection to intimacy and vulnerability, creativity and productivity and the commodification of… well, everything.

I contemplate in various ways every single day how to keep a hold on relativity, parameters and frameworks as measuring anything feels increasingly elusive. I saw a quote the other day saying that we don’t really want to be free: what we actually want is to be constrained within our own set of rules. I’ve been reflecting on what the inflammation of common societal structures is coming to mean and I find myself obsessed with constructing and adjusting my own.

Whatever the topic may be, my current observations can mostly be crystallised into one thing. We have to keep walking through the fire, adjusting to the heat and doing the best we can, even if that doesn’t feel like much. We do acclimatise, and we can acclimatise better by leaning into the nuance and paying attention to the individual degrees.

What does that mean materially beyond poetic language? Well — stop fuelling things that make you feel bad. Realise that though we are in the thick of it and will be for considerably more time, there will be a world post-coronavirus and what do you want that to look like? Personally? Globally? Water your surrounding gardens and trust that micro feeds into macro. Tend to what you can and keep adjusting until challenges feel less insurmountable and your environment proves more hopeful. Hold on to anything or anyone that makes you feel tethered and give everyone a bit more emotional breathing space.

One evening that feels light years ago, I was dancing through Bushwick at some MoMA PS1 thing someone had snuck us into and I remember the visceral feeling of the bass tearing through my body and the shimmering, swirling lights. There were these metallic stickers littering the warehouse walls (of course), reflecting a million different colours. Three words were printed on them: heat makes sense. And the more steps I take — because at some point, the only option is to somehow move forward — I think yes, heat, if you let yourself feel it, makes sense. Welcome to the furnace.

Making things feel personal

Working on Private Affairs, the photobook I plan to release at some point this year has prompted a lot of thought surrounding the intersection between academic research and art; what I would like to call “felt” research. On the topic of social media: we all know it’s “bad” for us and the predominant reasons why; tech companies continue to say “oops” or “sorry”, but does any of this really encourage your average individual to make a change?

I’d love to see more “felt research”; personal and artistic explorations that are informed by academic or statistical theory yet resonate on an intimate level that stimulates a concrete action. This was a cool artistic experiment I encountered recently which might fall under “felt” research.

I’ve also been thinking about the unbridled forms of data collection that have been deployed without much detection or regulation due to the pandemic’s urgency as well as whether it’s really possible to conduct an “offline” life. Currently resurrecting my iPod Nano and putting together a list of small actions we can take (often ambiguously buried in the depths of Settings) to reconfigure how our data is recorded and/or stored.

“Redefining” “Intimacy”

I’m encountering many fatigues lately; one of them being the (at least to me) limited language that we have surrounding conversations about intimacy and vulnerability. I’ve noticed over the last six months that my most “tractionable content” almost always surrounds intimacy and vulnerability, particularly in the context of personal development, “self-care” and relationships. It indicates an understandably widespread desire to hone and cultivate these connections and yet…

I’ve been learning “NOW MORE THAN EVER” that it’s a very complex and individual business to move from ideas to experiential realities, particularly in the emotional realm. The language has begun to sound very monotonous and homogenous to me: the same ideas repurposed over and over from “mindfulness” “tenderness” “collectivity” to a seemingly universal millennial/Gen Z goal of some ambiguous Zen Buddhist attach/ detachment. I’ve been thinking about how we can have a different conversation or recontextualise the existing one.

Fascinated to Presume by Zadie Smith provides food for thought on how terminology dictates the possibility of the conversation, and Frank Ocean makes an interesting point about the contradiction of strength in vulnerability.

I also read something fantastic that Alok Vaid-Menon said this week: “Vulnerability isn’t just about letting someone in; it’s also about getting out.” But it’s going to take more than a quote post on Insta or my contemplation about it in a newsletter to do it… And so in progress is more “felt” research on the subject.

Rounding up the ring of fire

After cycling through so many emotional dispositions the last few weeks, I finally feel a tiny bit revitalised. The pendulum will keep swinging, I’m sure, but when it does, I think of walking through the fire once more. It seems that we can never stray too far from the path when we do the best we can and help others do the best they can.

Sending you virtual flowers, my favourite Omar Apollo song and here’s to hoping you have a transformative week ahead!


I’m Emily Nabnian and Send Virtual Flowers is a weekly digital bouquet from me to you about that moment when the feeling strikes. It is an experiment in alternative modes of communication inspired by the things that touch me and perhaps you too. If someone came to mind while you were reading this, consider passing the bouquet along by sharing.