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Aparna Nancherla Speaks to Your Concerns

Funny people asking serious questions
by Aparna Nancherla
Illustration by Tony Millionaire

Aparna Nancherla Speaks to Your Concerns

Aparna Nancherla
23 Snaps

Dear Aparna:

I grew up in a split-political-party household, so it’s not a surprise that I married into another one. Early on, this difference felt positive: I credit my wife for her stance on important issues, including women’s access to health-care services and right to choose abortion. (I grew up anti-choice.)

We got on mostly fine until the recent election, when it became evident that, over the last ten years, we had somehow swapped perspectives. When did the young pro-Obama veteran I married transition to a red-leaning antifeminist? I’m not sure. But our disagreements grew to get-thrown-out-of-a-restaurant proportions.

This past year has been even worse, with all sorts of phobias, slurs, and plain racism popping up like a whole closet full of new shoes—no offense to shoes. Presidencies are temporary—let’s hope—but families are made to last. Do you have any advice for surviving in a friendship or relationship with someone who has strongly opposing political views?

Sincerely,
Kris J.
Flagstaff, AZ

APARNA RESPONDS:

Hi there, Kris,

I’m fascinated how our deep-seated views can shift over time. As a high-school senior, my final college decision was between Amherst and West Point; that is, a liberal arts “finding myself ” journey or a career in the armed forces. Now I’ve swung further and further left, and it’s hard to conceive of myself in a military culture. I guess I could knit rifle cozies to sell on Etsy, but that’s about it. All this is to say that our ideals and priorities constantly evolve.

It sounds like you and your partner have been walking toward each other’s views and you passed each other like two well-meaning (relation)ships in the night. Perhaps you both overplayed your hands and convinced each other how good your own side was.

Here’s what I’d ask: is this the same person you fell in love with? Since you initially started closer to the side your partner is on now, can that be a way in to understanding her? After all, there is a person you deeply care about behind all the ideology. It seems worth working at. Hopefully, you will learn more about each other. Either way, you can boldly embrace the person you are now, and find out if and how your partner can too.



Can I deeply love more than a handful of people in one lifetime? Also, why does love hurt? Also, if we had enough food, water, and community, would we die without art?

Mari B.

Boulder, CO

APARNA RESPONDS:

I’m glad your last question wasn’t “May I have infinite advice from you forevermore?,” because it seemed like things were maybe going in that direction.

Myself, I don’t identify as a polyamorist but I do strongly believe in the human capacity to feel in overdrive. In that sense, I do think you can deeply love and care about multiple people over one lifetime. Could this happen all at the same time? Maybe for some. I can barely pat my head and rub my tummy at the same time. So when it comes to soul-baring intimacies, I think I’ll have to space them out. But look: there are many different kinds of love, and depending on what you’re looking for—deep attachment and connection versus arm candy—I do think you are capable of connecting with many different people.

Next question. Love hurts because vulnerability hurts. We live in an age of snark and cynicism, but love is never like that. Love says, “Oh, hey, actually, I care deeply.” If you put yourself on the line, the lows will be crushingly low but the flip side is that the shared space will be wonderful. People who don’t do this, and who have very little empathy, such as sociopaths, have to get creative to keep life interesting for themselves (a.k.a. playing manipulative mind games with people or, oh, I don’t know, serial murder). I’ll take listening to the Magnetic Fields on repeat for twelve weeks after a breakup over that.

As an artist, your last question reflexively makes me want to say, “Why yes, of course! How dare you even ask!” I’m biased. I do think, though, that art figures into the community part of your question. Community is human connection, which is something we need for mental and emotional security. Community includes telling stories and sharing experiences, and to me, art is the transmission of story and experience across various mediums. We can’t help telling stories. It’s how we make sense of things.



Last Christmas my then boyfriend gifted me with a necklace of his wisdom teeth. We have since broken up and aren’t on good terms. Should I return them?

Thank you!

Emily A.
Memphis, TN

APARNA RESPONDS:

Hi Emily,

While the gift is specific, the quandary is as old as time. But honestly, so is the gift probably. Before we had craft-beer home-brewers and Xboxes, I’m sure teeth, especially our own, were considered a very thoughtful gift!

I still have a painting on my wall that an ex gave me as a present. I love the art. I do feel guilty when I look at it, because I ended the relationship. But I think it’s OK to keep gifts and such as an homage to what was then, rather than what is now. I used to think of relationships that didn’t work out as failures. But why should the happiness we felt get canceled out by whatever came later? It’s one thing if there was an ongoing betrayal of trust that came to light, or you were misled or seriously mistreated. But if something just fades out or you grow into different people, it feels OK to acknowledge that, at one point, it was good. It just wasn’t meant to be forever.

For you, though, I’d say get rid of this gift unless you can wear it without feeling weird. It’s a necklace of his wisdom teeth, which is a loaded thing both because it originated from his mouth and because wisdom is involved. So if it’s giving you weird vibes, bury it in the woods, mutter a few words of respectful closure, and keep it moving. Maybe a chipmunk will dig it up and use it as a living-room statement piece.



Dear Aparna,

I dropped a tub of cream cheese on the floor and it disappeared under the sofa. I never found it. I looked off and on for hours. I live sparely—no hoarding. This has made me deeply anxious and raised a lot of questions about the universe and about God. How do I handle this emotionally?

E.D.
Plainfield, VT

APARNA RESPONDS:

With empathy for your panic and anxiety, I say it’s time to reclaim your power and embrace the abyss. I live with near-constant low-level dread. But it’s the flip side of acceptance. Fear and panic are adaptations: they warn us of danger. But in some of our brains, the mechanism gets hot-wired and is set off by as little as an alarm clock going off. So seriously, maybe your fears around the AWOL cream cheese tub were legit. But now the mystery is yours to redefine. Our deepest puzzles as humans happen on the most mundane level. In other words, I’m saying this tub of cream cheese was your burning bush, and it’s time to hold your arms up and open to the universe and unapologetically crow, “WHAT THE FRIG!!!” And live in that uncertainty.

Also, it is well within your right to buy more cream cheese.



Hello,

I’m having an extremely hard time finding my purpose. I don’t know what makes me happy. Any advice?

Chase G.
Tallahassee, FL

APARNA RESPONDS:

Howdy, Chase,

This one’s a classic, and I don’t say that to diminish your struggle. I mean that to say: you are not alone. Plenty of people who probably seem like they have it all figured out definitely don’t.

I’m not sure what stage of life you are in, but the desire to find meaning in our lives is ongoing. I’m constantly uncertain about what makes me happy, whether I am happy, or what it would even look like. I am usually busy and sometimes people mistake this for purpose. Oh, she’s constantly working on something. She must be so fulfilled. But busyness can be treading water.

When I was younger, I looked constantly for epiphanies, or for something that was “meant to be.” I pined for the conviction of people who said things like “I’ve always known I wanted to be a doctor, ever since I was a little girl.” There are people like that. But there are also people who like a little bit of everything, or can’t figure out exactly where they fit in. Right now, I’ve found comedy, but my brain certainly still questions that all the time. One of the hardest things about being an adult, to me, is that sometimes there are no actual answers, even to things you were promised as a kid. We have to create meaning for ourselves.

Instead of looking for a purpose in the murk, take stock of what fulfills you. Is it creating? Is it leading? Is it organizing? Is it helping? Is it related to art or numbers or other people? Think broadly and then narrow things down. And it’s OK not to have all the answers. Allow yourself the gifts of patience and grace. The world is full up on people shaming themselves into doing what they think they’re supposed to do—plenty of vacancies in the self-acceptance unit, though.

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