December 11, 2020

Pretend the extremely pixelated quality of this photo is ~artsy film grain~

Hi again, she says sheepishly. I feel like I’m starting an entry in a long-neglected diary, and feel like I need to explain that “things have just gotten so busy,” or “there hasn’t been that much to write about.” The truth is closer to, “I’m so tired of writing about 2020, and each week it gets easier to Not Write.” But I started this project to hold myself accountable to the things I read and having coherent opinions on them, so I’m back to give it the ole college try!

  1. Will Anyone Ever Love Me?, ¡Hola Papi! I read this weeks ago and it’s compassionate and sweet. “Yes, UL, like you, I am lonely. The loneliness is a reliable ache that at times asserts itself into full-blown torture, depending on the day. The balm is elusive, and I would give it to you if I could. But what I can give you, and I hope it will be enough for now, is what I feel you’re looking for in your letter. I can give you understanding, I can believe you. I’ve heard the same things you have. It can be incredibly unsatisfying, depressing, even, to feel like your reality is being dismissed, even if the heart is in the right place. But I’m here too, aching and wanting and hoping and making peace with things, and you know what, UL? I think most people are. I think most people are lonely, even people who are in relationships, even people who have been married for most of their lives. I think loneliness is part of the human condition. […] Love, wherever we can find it and whatever form it takes, can at times be so close to our faces we don’t even see it. Romantic love isn’t the only or most important kind, and if you have some love in your life, I would encourage you, UL, to meet it happily and let it be enough for a while.”
  2. Dear Fuck-Up: Why Won’t My Friend Text Me Back?, Jezebel. Another advice column I’ve been sitting on for weeks, but still feels relevant. “Covid has obviously eroded or destroyed countless things in all our lives including, for me and perhaps for your friend as well, the ease with which we maintain a lot of our relationships. That vast array of people you talk to somewhat frequently but not every day, the people you have dinner with every few months, the people you would see but not stay with if you are visiting their city. All of those relationships that add immeasurable texture to a life and are predicated on the simple joy of catching up. The problem, for me, is that it feels like there is simply nothing to catch these people up on anymore. Too many things are happening but also nothing much is happening at all, and I find I have nothing particularly interesting to say about it. Life is dull and that has in turn made me a dullard. Even the things that qualify as events don’t feel like enough to sustain any real contemplation. How have I been? Well, I moved to a new city, and now I’m in a new place doing the same things as before, mainly dishes and fretting.”
  3. Deconstructing The Instagram Aesthetic, Ssense. This piece is about antiracist IG accounts that create slideshows for stories on police abolition and other social justice topics, and about how (despite the potential for misinformation/oversimplification) co-opting the IG aesthetic for radical politics is a pretty effective design strategy. “As I meditate on the efficacy and purpose of these slides, I start to see all this DIY design and education as a visible fight between the application design of Instagram and a wing of radical users.” The essay ends with some hope too, which I’m thirsting for: “We lack the resources of the truly powerful, so we must attack with a tiny thousand cuts. Dismantling the mythos of capitalist design is one cut. Combating propaganda in every form with our own is another. When I see young people and organizers galvanized by this movement creating a message of their own design, I see a tiny blade, in sync with many others.”
  4. Are COVID-19 Bubbles a Good Idea?, The Atlantic. My takeaway from this article is to keep my pod small (tiny!) and closed, and to have regular conversations with pod-members about risk and exposure. This was compassionate: “None of us should be shamed for relying on people we don’t live with, or for wanting to maintain our emotional health. We need one another. But we also need one another to exercise caution and restraint so that thousands more will not die in the name of preserving the nation’s social well-being.” 
  5. Shit, Actually: The Definitive, 100% Objective Guide to Modern Cinema, Lindy West. Very few comedy writers make me LOL IRL, but Lindy has my number. I’ve been cackling into the pages of this book all week. She recaps familiar movies (Forrest Gump, Love Actually, The Fugitive, Rush Hour, to name a few) and there’s a transgressive pleasure about being like “Hey, this movie everyone loves is ‘shit, actually.’” She has perfected the balance between feminist killjoy and lover of human absurdity, and I highly recommend this read for a wholesome belly laugh!

Donation Station:

  • The Religious Coalition for Emergency Human Needs – Normally around this time of year, David and I have gone to the Weinberg to see It’s a Wonderful Life, which fundraises for the Religious Coalition. Obviously we’re not doing that this year, so I’m donating $10 toward the Coalition to assist with families experiencing homelessness and other effects of poverty. (They have a minimum donation about of $10, but if 9 other readers pitch in, our donation will help keep utilities on for one family ♥)

Bonus features:

October 30, 2020

Liu Bolin. Iron Fist.

Oh hi, I guess this is going to be a bi-weekly blog for a little bit. I’m hanging in there, but dang, am I burned out! Are you? I love you. We’re gonna get through this.

  1. 10 things you need to know to stop a coup, Waging Nonviolence. Just sharing this article, no particular reason…just kidding. If we need to, we should prepare “for the possibility of a coup while keeping people focused on a strong, robust election process.” Some of these tips are pretty comforting. The importance of the regular citizen in stopping a coup gave me courage: “Coups tend to fail when government institutions (like elections) are trusted, there is an active citizenry and other nations are ready to become involved. […] A failed coup in Germany in 1920 gives an example. The population felt beaten down by defeat in World War I and high unemployment. Right-wing nationalists organized a coup and got the help of a few generals to seize government buildings. The deposed government fled but ordered all citizens to obey them. “No enterprise must work as long as the military dictatorship reigns,” they declared. […] The moments after a coup are moments for heroism amongst the general population. It’s how we make democracy real.” These lines in tip #9 are a good place to end: “Let’s aim for calm and avoid hyperbole. Be a reliable source by double-checking rumors and spreading high-quality facts. Sure, read social media… but spend some time, you know, doing real things that ground you. Breathe deeply. Remember how you handle fear. Play out scenarios, but don’t become captured by them. We’re doing this to prepare, just in case.” 
  2. Sunset on 14th Street, Alex Dimitrov for The Iowa Review. “I’m standing right in front of / Nowhere bar, dehydrated / and quite scared / but absolutely willing / to keep going. It makes sense / you do the same. It’s far / too late for crying and quite / useless too. You can be sad / and still look so good. […] Look at the sky. Kiss everyone / you can for sure.” This was a lovely piece with the vibes of a carpe diem poem.
  3. The feminist history of the cardigan, The Week. Didn’t know the first cardigans were called Sloppy Joes but I like it! “A 1947 article in Life lamented the sweaters and was shocked that these women “sometimes even ventured out of dormitories in rolled-up blue jeans and large men’s shirts with the tails out. … like a girl who does not care whether or not she looks like a girl.” GASP, what kind of girl?! 
  4. Dear Fuck-Up: Why Won’t My Friend Text Me Back?, Jezebel. “The problem, for me, is that it feels like there is simply nothing to catch these people up on anymore. Too many things are happening but also nothing much is happening at all, and I find I have nothing particularly interesting to say about it. Life is dull and that has in turn made me a dullard. Even the things that qualify as events don’t feel like enough to sustain any real contemplation. How have I been? Well, I moved to a new city, and now I’m in a new place doing the same things as before, mainly dishes and fretting.” Aw this advice column was so compassionate for the letter-writer and the girl the LW is writing about. 
  5. How to Make Socially Distanced Holidays Actually Feel Special, S. Bear Bergman for Vice. I loved the ideas here. If you like celebrating the holidays, treat the day like it’s special even if you don’t do all the traditions you usually do. Dress for the day, incorporate some games or conversation starters if you’re doing a Zoom dinner, and my favorite suggestion: Make videos of your relatives cooking their specialties, an intergenerational cooking class as the author calls it. It’s painful to see more traditions postponed or transformed by Covid, but if we miss each other this year, we give ourselves the chances for many years together to come.

October 16, 2020

I’m so tired of writing about 2020. I don’t want to anymore. I have skipped writing the last two weeks, and I just realized I’m feeling burned out on this year. I’ve been reading, but not as many articles I can link you to in full text. I’ve been reading a lot of books that let me escape this current moment, and if you will join me, I’ll share them with you. I heard someone say “Done is better than perfect,” and that is what is getting me to the end of this Friday5 post.

  1. Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Ahhh this book is wild. It reminds me of Turn of the Screw and The Yellow Wallpaper, but written with modern energy and a willingness to go darker than either of those tales did. I loved the main character, Noemi, as a horror heroine, who is willing to peer deeper into the darkness to save those she loves, to hold on tight and not let go. It’s also cool to read a (in my reading experience) traditionally white genre, the Gothic novel, with both a writer and protagonist of color at the helm. Moreno-Garcia hones right in on the eugenics and scientific racism of the 1950s, and connects the internal decay of the house with the host’s racism, misogyny and entitlement. It also reminds me of Bluebeard, and Tam Lin, and all the good stories about refusing to be the next in a long line of women consumed for immortality or men’s desire. Wow, it’s such a good book and I highly recommend it as a perfect ghost story for this October.
  2. The Adventure Zone: Petals to the Metal, Clint McElroy. This is a graphic novel, third in a series that novelizes the famously popular Adventure Zone D&D podcast, and in my opinion the best in the series so far. Here’s a quote from it that actually did make me tear up: “Do you know why our organization is called the Bureau of Balance, Merle? It’s because the world’s design, if such a thing exists, is one of masterful equilibrium. Fore every evil impulse drawn from a tempted heart, there is a heroic deed, spurred on by unimaginable bravery. From where we’re sitting, it’s hard to keep them both in our sights. But that balance is there, keeping the world stitched together. For every wrongdoing, there is a right. For each injustice, an act of kindness. For every wound, a remedy.”
  3. Solutions and Other Problems, Allie Brosh. Brosh’s long-awaited second collection of comics (her first, Hyperbole and a Half, is one of my favorite representations of the journey in and out of major depression). This one reveals more from her childhood and family life, and like any good graphic memoir, it’s hard to sum up. But it was worth the wait, and I recommend it to you.
  4. Not Like the Movies, Kerry Winfrey. This is a sweet contemporary romance followup to Waiting for Tom Hanks, which was pretty cute! I actually think the second one is better — it follows Chloe, a girl taking care of her aging father and working at a coffee shop where she and her boss have become the inspiration for a major romantic comedy film. As many romance novels do, the story is as much about the main character’s internal growth as it is about falling in love. I really related to Chloe’s struggle; she is a “helper” to everyone around her, and even though she feels tremendously overwhelmed and alone, she’s afraid to ask for the help she gives out so generously. This book made me cry several times, and is definitely more melancholy than other romcoms, but with a satisfying end and some major chemistry between the leads.
  5. Clockwork Boys, T. Kingfisher. If someone made a novelization of their D&D campaign, I imagine it would read like this book. It’s a duology, and I haven’t read the second book yet, but boy did I love the first. Total escapism into a world where four flawed protags face a doomed mission into enemy lands (in exchange for criminal pardons). We’ve got a fierce, tiny con artist, a wicked, abrasive assassin, and a paladin with a few demon-possession issues. Oh, and a scholar-guide, I’m not as attached to him yet. I like the world, and I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by T. Kingfisher. I have trouble describing fantasy novels, especially to folks who don’t read them, but this one is just pure fun.

September 25, 2020

Hi! Did you know the deadline to register to vote in MD is October 13? You can also check your voter registration status online. 

  1. How do I stop being lazy?, Here’s the Thing. “Your biggest problem is your biggest problem. That does not make it the world’s biggest problem. Your laziness is not on par with climate change, of course, BUT THAT DOESN’T MAKE IT NOT A BIG PROBLEM FOR YOU! You are allowed to have problems even if you have privilege. The two are not mutually exclusive. I think in many ways you have avoiding processing some of this because you feel guilty for feeling bad. But beating yourself up for being frustrated or feeling stuck is not going to make you unstuck. That’s like punching yourself in the face for having gotten a flat tire.” I really like this advice, it’s compassionate and gives the letter writer a good place to start (ask for help, be kind to yourself, and start small).
  2. The Photographer Peeking at Your Phone, NYT. Hmmm…this is a very weird project, and probably embarrassing if your stuff was in there. But boy do I love to snoop on other people’s conversations. “Voyeuristic isn’t the same as harmful,” Mermelstein told me, when I asked him about the ethics of capturing people’s private thoughts without their knowledge or consent. “We’re all out there in the public domain, so part of everything we do engages with voyeurism. As a street photographer, I’ve been practicing this for a long time, and I trust that what I do isn’t hurting anyone.” What do you think about that idea? I’m chewing my lip over it.
  3. Surfaces vs Airborne: What We Know Now About Covid-19 Transmission, Medium. “One reason is that a virus inside a freshly exhaled droplet is more likely to be alive and infectious than a virus that’s been sitting on a doorknob for several hours. The other reason is that, in close range, breathing in the air that someone else just breathed out is going to expose you to a higher quantity of virus particles — called the inoculum — than after the droplets disperse and fall to the ground. […]  And even if some viral particles do get through, the viral dose will still be much smaller, so the person will be less likely to get seriously ill.” A lot of this is stuff we know, but it made me feel better about a) wearing masks in public and b) seeing friends in outdoor spaces.
  4. I Learned to Love Reading Again While Quarantined (And So Can You, with These Eight Easy Steps!), The Niche. This is a great post with good advice — be bored, think of it as a treat, read what you ACTUALLY want to read, not what you think you should be reading. I like their tip here, to have the next book lined up. That motivates you to finish the one you’re reading, to get to the next one! I would also recommend trying several different types of book, because maybe you don’t like modern literary fiction (personally I find it grim), but graphic novels are your jam, or Instagram-style poetry, or comedian memoirs. There’s a librarian saying (it’s actually a law of library science, lol and barf) that is “Every reader, their book,” meaning there’s a book out there for you and the library is obligated to get you access to it. 
  5. We’re Closer Than We Realize, Reasons to Be Cheerful. “We find hope in stories of the Jewish and Arab women in Israel driving hundreds of Bedouin women from their remote villages to polling stations to protect their right to vote. We find it in the youth soccer program in Lewiston, Maine, where Somali refugees play side by side with their American teammates to set an example for the rest of their community. We find it in the NFL’s reversal of its position on players taking a knee during the national anthem, and the league’s eventual support for the Black Lives Matter movement. We also find hope in the fact that BLM is widely embraced by Americans: two-thirds of U.S. adults support the movement, including majorities of white (60%), Hispanic (77%), and Asian (75%) Americans. The growing diversity within the movement is illustrative and informative.” This is an encouraging piece. “We can either turn on each other, or toward each other.”

Donation Station:

  • League of Women Voters – I’m very concerned about people being confused or kept from being able to vote this year, so I’m going to focus on a few voting rights organizations for a bit. The League of Women Voters creates the excellent Vote411 voter guide, which gives you an overview of who’s on your ballot and what they stand for. Join me in kicking $5 their way this week!

Bonus features:

September 18, 2020

TGIF. Thank God It’s Fall.

  1. The Lawmakers Fighting to Make Hair Discrimination Illegal, Glamour. “When we talk about systemic racism, we must acknowledge the role of hair discrimination in oppressing Black and brown people in our classrooms, conference rooms, and beyond,” she says. “Hair discrimination is a very real phenomenon that contributes to the criminalization of communities of color and perpetuates the school-to-confinement pathway, especially for girls and young women.” This is legislation I’ve been following for a little bit, and although this article says that Maryland has passed this legislation, the truth is that only Montgomery County has so far. I’d like to see it be a state-wide policy, and if you agree, you should write your reps about it!
  2. A Brief History of the Mason Jar, Smithsonian. I love canning and I have so much childhood nostalgia for this humble, versatile jar.
  3. Welcome the Covid Influencer, Anne Helen Petersen’s newsletter. “With that said, it’s ridiculous to the point of sad hilarity that athletes can’t get compensated for their brand promotion (or for the literal millions of dollars they bring into the school), but influencers like Brooklyn and Bailey can. The difference, of course, is that universities have kept up the farce that their student athletes are just, I dunno, playing for the fun of it, not actually acting as brand ambassadors. But straight up influencers like Brooklyn and Bailey make any such pretense impossible. And as Derek Jenkins put it on Twitter, “How many racialized students have been pressured onto the cover of their university’s student catalog without the added incentive of a “brand partnership”?”
  4. Comedy Wildlife Photo Finalists Are Every Bit as Glorious as You’d Expect, Mashable. I love contest this every year. I love the otters, the bears, and the giraffes!
  5. Best Frozen Pizza, Kitchn. What’s your favorite frozen pizza? This link has some good suggestions I’m going to try, but lately Davy and I have been big into this kooky guy’s frozen pies: Wild Mike’s Ultimate Pizza.

Donation Station:

Great Cycle Challenge USA – Tim Hampton – My dad is doing a fundraiser for Children’s Cancer Research Fund, and he’s already biked like 85 miles! Join me in donating $5 this week.