Julien Baker

Come for the music. Stay for the wonderful writing.

“Even the most minute acts of acknowledgment communicate to another person that they are seen, that they matter; to care for another person is to affirm their worth. In our simplest gestures we find ways to pierce the superficial exterior of an often callous and isolated world, to exercise the compassion that draws us together.

Through every small kindness, we form attachments, construct a web of human connection, however tenuous. Thinking of this web, I wondered how many gestures like this a lifetime might contain, and that was both moving and devastating. I imagined the delicate thread spun from the spool of a person, weaving a tangled and imperceptible network through towns and continents, leaving little knots at every point of contact that tug us closer to each other, that makes us feel incrementally less alone.”

-Julien Baker, “Tiny Changes to Earth.” Oxford American. January 9, 2019.

“From childhood we are instilled with the ethics of generosity and equality—taught to take turns, to share, and to advocate for the weak. Simultaneously, we are indoctrinated with the covert certainty that unsuccessfulness is the result of laziness. It is important to be kind, but  more important to be productive. Our culture criminalizes poverty and stigmatizes welfare, critiques the greed of the super-wealthy while disapproving of programs that redistribute that wealth to provide for its citizens because of the entitlement an entire class feels to their own wealth. I remember hearing relatives argue against public health care with a decontextualized reference to Thessalonians: “if you don’t work you don’t eat,” and wondering how this draconian detachment from the plight of the unemployed could coexist with a professed belief in the value of compassion.We are taught to value mercy and grace alongside fairness, forgetting that often what is gracious, merciful, or compassionate is often not what is technically fair, at least by the Hammurabian standard of an eye for an eye.

This dichotomy of belief forms a functional cynicism, something that we tell ourselves we need to survive but which allows our adversity to become something that breeds resentment for others’ hardship instead of sympathy for it, and makes us reluctant to challenge a dominant system.

–Julien Baker, “A Familiar Stranger.Oxford American. November 8, 2018.

“Because I am a human who, like most humans, often does not seek out discomfort, this mostly occurs when my well-worn preconceptions are unexpectedly disrupted by someone with whom I would prefer not to engage. Still, I understand that part of emotional education is choosing not to opt out of these opportunities, to endure the friction of opposition and find what lesson in humility can be extracted. So I try to engage…

…Ruminating on the particularity of queer experience reminds me that there is no uniformity of belief or experience, in the LGBT community or in any other, and that the work of empathy demands unraveling my own presupposed paradigms, forcing myself to see people as a collection of their experiences, not as an embodiment of an ideal or principle. Practicing this within the context of a community I belong to and sympathize with becomes a skill that can be repurposed as empathy for those with whom I lack the ability or desire to understand.

Every day we are asked to live through immense, painful, and causeless things as if it were not an incredible feat. Our mental apparatus, made up of all our ideologies, convictions, superstitions, and personal mythologies, develops out of necessity to make sense of those things that are beyond our capacity to comprehend. Identifying how that apparatus formed in another person cannot nullify pain or negate wrong, it can only give us tools to be more merciful in our interpretations of others.”

-Julien Baker, “Learning Mercy.” Oxford American. June 14, 2018.

Really, just read them all.