Internet Diary 1/2–1/9

You Sound Like Someone Paying Attention

Alexander Chee
6 min readJan 9, 2021

1/9/2021 Chelsea, VT

Too often, dates at the start of chapters in fiction do less than the author imagines. The reader does not remember them until it is too late, and meanwhile the author believes someone is following along, and so does less than they should to convey context, story, meaning.

Anyway. Today is January 9th, 2021. It is 1AM.

I have been up late looking at old photos in my computer to cheer me up. I took the below when I was traveling across the South Island of New Zealand for 9 days before the Auckland Writers’ Festival, using a guidebook at first but soon going wherever the last person we met told us to go. The land was so beautiful it seemed like any photo you took was good.

A bay with clouds streaming above mountains and the sea, and a grassy hill.

Sometimes I would look at New Zealanders, just take them in on the street, and they seemed so calm, even when excited, even when angry or busy. What was it like to have a government that wasn’t constantly antagonizing you? I wanted to stay. But as I could not stay, I took panoramic photos like the one above as if my phone could take it all in. Is it a photo of a beautiful landscape? Yes, but also a photo of a place where people can live like that, something to remind me. Especially tonight.

The riot this week in the Capitol, incited by the president, was a super-spreader event like all of his rallies were. 400,000 Americans had been estimated to be dead of COVID by the time Biden is sworn in, but it seems to me the number may be higher now.

In the aftermath, my hands hurt, my knuckles aching from the inside inside out. All these years of clenching my phone during political crises have left me feeling like I’ve been slap-boxing with current events.

I keep reading tweets from other countries where I experience what feels like an immediate recognition — Yes, yes, my country is like this. Like this one, which so closely described what was happening in our country, I had to double check.

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Alexander Chee

Author of the novels THE QUEEN OF THE NIGHT and EDINBURGH, and the essay collection HOW TO WRITE AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOVEL.