The reads I picked this week are pretty life-affirming, in my opinion. I’m always on the hunt for the good stuff. Last weekend David and I watched Elizabethtown, and there’s a background story of a couple getting married with all this personalized merch with catchphrases on it (like “Chuck and Cindy: The Wedding,” and “Lovin’ You 24/7”). My favorite of the catchphrases is “Lovin’ life!! Lovin’ You!!” Anyway…
- This Tom Hanks Story Will Help You Feel Less Bad, NYT. America’s sweetheart, Tom Hanks. “I think a long time ago, I learned how important it was to show up a little bit early,” Hanks told me. “Be ready to go, you know? And to respect the whole process, and I think that you could respect the whole process even when the other people don’t.” There are so many golden little moments in this adoring story: “In our interviews, he says “oh dear” and “geez” and “for cryin’ out loud.” He is a history enthusiast. He is an information enthusiast. He is an enthusiasm enthusiast. At one point, I can’t remember why, he recited the Preamble to the Constitution.” Highly recommend this read.
- The Myth and Magic of Generating New Ideas, New Yorker. “I had stumbled upon an instance of what is called an abundant number, a phenomenon first studied by the ancient Greeks. An abundant number is smaller than the sum of its divisors: in my case, the sum of one, two, three, four, and six (twelve’s divisors) is sixteen. That morning with my dad, I didn’t have a name for this phenomenon, but I was happy nonetheless, and maybe even happier because I was ignorant of the larger picture. It was my own surprising little discovery, born of walking and puzzling. Magic all around.” I like how this author talks about the process of thinking and discovery, “an initial period of concentration—conscious, directed attention—needs to be followed by some amount of unconscious processing. Mathematicians will often speak of the first phase of this process as “worrying” about a problem or idea. It’s a good word, because it evokes anxiety and upset while also conjuring an image of productivity: a dog worrying a bone, chewing at it to get to the marrow—the rich, meaty part of the problem that will lead to its solution. In this view of creative momentum, the key to solving a problem is to take a break from worrying, to move the problem to the back burner, to let the unwatched pot boil.” It reminds me of a C.S. Lewis quote from “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to Be Said,” where he describes the process of creating a story as one that starts with an idea bubbling in his mind, until it becomes “a thing inside him pawing to get out. […] This nags him all day long and gets in the way of his work and his sleep and his meals. It’s like being in love.”
- How High Can High-Waisted Pants Go? New Yorker. “Personally, I want my pants to be so high that they can double as an underwire bra. I want to feel like Humphrey Bogart playing an exaggerated version of himself for Halloween.” I just like feelin’ like my tummy is safe! I enjoyed this piece of fashion writing.
- How to Write a Condolence Note, Cup of Jo. Some very good advice in here. In particular, I liked this, “Tell stories. I loved when people wrote specific stories about Paul that I’d never heard, and told me how he had impacted them, what they loved about him, positive things they observed about our relationship. I personally think, the more detail, the better. The grieving person is thinking about the person 100% of the time; nothing you say is going to make her sadder; instead, the stories you tell are going to make her feel connected.”
- Here Are More Pictures of Cows, The Atlantic. Exactly what is promised!
Hi! We made it this far, guys. Stay hydrated, moisturize, and wear gloves. Let’s be good to each other as it gets cold and dark and twinkle-lit.
- How to Support Your Fat Friends, as a Straight Size Person, Medium. (CW: calorie mention, though critically.) “When a thin person does something — anything — to defend or support a fat person, it’s a thunderclap, a cathartic climax in an otherwise desolate movie. I long for those moments. I imagine a thin friend talking about their fat politics, unprompted, with other thin people. I imagine them proactively bringing up fat activism, inviting other thin people into a conversation about solidarity and matching their actions to their values.” And I really liked this part too: “These friends are the bright and beautiful exceptions to the world around me. They know that they have internalized anti-fatness, and know that their good hearts and best intentions aren’t enough on their own to end anti-fat bias. They recognize that compassion and commiseration are meaningless without sustained action. […] The friends I have kept understand that their support doesn’t hinge on how they feel, but on how they show up and what actions they take.”
- The Worship of Billionaires Has Become Our Shittiest Religion, The Outline. “If you have in your possession one billion dollars, then almost literally anything you desire — anything anyone might possibly conceive of desiring — can be yours, just as soon as you happen to desire it. But with no real friction between desire and reality, how does wanting even function? Can someone who lives like this even be said to know desire, anymore, at all?” In my opinion, no one should be able to hoard that much wealth and pass it into other generations. When the author says they’re not people, it seems to me to mean that they are removed from ordinary human experience (at the expense of other human beings’ labor, time, and health). What does a billionaire know about the hard choices an immigrant family has to make? “Becoming a billionaire is a matter of extreme luck, often experienced not by any one individual but rather spread out, over generations… And what is more: your good luck, in becoming a billionaire, must simultaneously be felt — often directly, and perhaps very violently — as the bad luck, of possibly hundreds of millions of others, whom your wealth exists as theft from.” This is a pretty philosophical and fascinating read.
- “The Role of the Artist in the Age of Trump,” The Atlantic. “What artists can do is bring stories to the table that are unshakably true—the sort of stories that, once you’ve heard them, won’t let you return to what you thought before. […] I believe great art is like bypass surgery. It allows us to go around all of the psychological distancing mechanisms that turn people cold to the most vulnerable among us.” Gorgeous writing by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
- Stammer Time, The Baffler. “Some of us, though, have been trying to flip the paradigm, to reframe stuttering as a trait that confers transformative powers. We wear our vulnerability on the outside, and that invites emotional intimacy with others. We slow down conversations, fostering patience. We give texture to language. We gauge character by our listeners’ reactions. We are good listeners ourselves. This impulse is hardly original to stutterers. We’ve drawn ideas from other minorities: autistic people, whose “neurodiversity” model declares that a society is richer when it embraces a wider range of thoughts and behaviors; gays and lesbians, who in 1973 convinced the American Psychiatric Association to depathologize homosexuality; and deaf people, whose well-developed language and culture have led some members to talk about “Deaf Gain” rather than “hearing loss.” Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything from this lens before but I learned a lot. These lines struck me too: “Can we stop believing that the problem lives inside our bodies? Might the real problem lie in a society that, in its quest for order and efficiency, makes no accommodation for people who speak (or walk or think) differently? Might the solutions lie there too?”
- Why the US National Anthem is Terrible — And Perfect, Vox. This video is a little old but new to me. I really liked how it broke down what is wild and impossible about our national anthem (its highest and lowest notes are 12 steps apart!). It also shows how national anthem performances are really good when they’re good, and really bad when they’re not so good. Neat lil video!
Despite my best intentions I have barely managed to read more than a recipe this week. It’s the peak of the semester, so it’s been a flood of class visits and citation checks and hopping from one student’s computer to the next. Truly, it’s taken me two hours to write this paragraph. So I thought I’d fall back on a post I’d been thinking about for a while. Here are 5 websites that I use a lot and recommend; they do their jobs and do ‘em well!
- TimeandDate.com. I started using this website when Davey and I were long distance — I used to use it to calculate how long it had been since I’d seen him, or how long til the next visit (*awwww*). But I also use it to calculate vacation time occasionally, because time math continues to elude me. There are all kinds of calculators and countdowns on this website, but the one I use the most is the Date Duration Calculator.
- DoesTheDogDie.com. They describe their site as “crowdsourced emotional spoilers for movies, tv, books, and more.” It’s a simple search box where you can look up a movie to see what upsetting material might appear in it. Obviously the original yes/no question is in the title of the website, but over the years they’ve incorporated other triggering events and topics, such as abuse and common phobias like needles or clowns. If you’re picky about spoilers, this might bother you. But for me, personal comfort > spoilers any day. I don’t like to be blindsided by something that upsets me (I call these my “bugaboos,” like from Stepbrothers), and so I very much appreciate this website. It helps me to go into a piece of media with informed consent, or to opt out of it if I want to. Extremely grateful this tool exists.
- Poetry Foundation. This is the website of the publisher of Poetry magazine, and I like their site for its browsing functions. You can browse by topic, form, region, and it’s very student friendly. I like coming here for their collections too; this month they have a Thanksgiving-themed collection (“Cranberry Cantos”), and Veteran’s Day poems, for example. There’s a poem out there for every moment and every one.
- Unsplash. I use this website to find free, high quality images I can use without permission or attribution (although I do try to attribute whenever possible). It’s a great source for photographs for this blog as well as the graphic designish stuff I do in librarianship. It’s one of those “a community on the internet being generous with their art” things, and I think it’s rad.
- J! Archive. This is a fan-run archive of Jeopardy! game answers, organized by season. Yeah, you could consult this for exactly who got what question and who what which game, but I prefer to use it to quiz myself on how many questions I could get from the comfort of my desk chair, with no buzzer or pressure. I am very good at Jeopardy! under these circumstances.
I’ve been thinking about community a lot lately. It’s hard out there for a lot of reasons, and a lot of us want to curl up under a blanket and numb out to the Office for the 100th time. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that; there’s a special place in my heart for the feeling of collapsing on the couch for the night. But I’ve been trying to see folks during the week more, and it’s made me feel more connected to a world beyond work, walk the dog, dither about dinner plans, sleep. I’ve come to the conclusion that I love my friends a lot!
- The best $1.75 I ever spent: Hand sanitizer that allows me to exist in public, Vox. “The sense I rely on most is touch. I grip handrails and metal bars. I hold on to moving escalators and push elevator buttons. I glide my fingers along walls and push off from the sides of cars. In rare cases, I clutch tree branches stretched over curbs. When a loved one or a kind stranger isn’t beside me to intertwine my arm in theirs, touch is how I get around.” This is a lovely piece about disability and public space.
- Life-Hacks of the Poor and Aimless, Laurie Penny. This is a critique of both our definition of self-care and the corporatization of self-care rituals and wellness. I don’t know if I buy everything that she’s saying here, but the overall message that we need to demonstrate better love to ourselves, not by consuming products, but by mutual aid and community. There’s a lot I want to quote here but I’ll just share two passages: “The lonely work of taking basic care of yourself as you wait for the world to change is a poor substitute. When you’re washed up and burned out from putting your body on the line to fight the state, it’s especially galling to be told to share a smile and eat more whole grains.” Dang! And her thoughts on love for others and the self are really interesting to me (although I think they might be incomplete): “The problem with self-love as we currently understand it is in our view of love itself, defined, too simply and too often, as an extraordinary feeling that we respond to with hearts and flowers and fantasy, ritual consumption and affectless passion. Modernity would have us mooning after ourselves like heartsick, slightly creepy teenagers, taking selfies and telling ourselves how special and perfect we are. This is not real self-love, no more than a catcaller loves the woman whose backside he’s loudly admiring in the street. The harder, duller work of self-care is about the everyday, impossible effort of getting up and getting through your life in a world that would prefer you cowed and compliant. A world whose abusive logic wants you to see no structural problems, but only problems with yourself, or with those more marginalized and vulnerable than you are. Real love, the kind that soothes and lasts, is not a feeling, but a verb, an action. It’s about what you do for another person over the course of days and weeks and years, the work put in to care and cathexis.”
- Fat People Deserve to Glorify Our Bodies, Wear Your Voice. This essay is gorgeous. In particular the final paragraphs are an almost meditative invitation to care for your body, in its soft shapes and needs. “A fat body deserves good things, all the things the world told you it never did. Yes, even promotion and glory. Magnify it. Exalt it. Uplift it. Extol it a tribute. Dedicate it a song. Compose it a sonnet. Honor it. Adore it. Thank it. Thank it for keeping you, for how it’s given you breath and held your organs close and carried your blood through its veins. For how it’s digested your food and received your refreshments. […] Even if you don’t love it, now or ever, affirm it and the spirit of the one who lives in it. Remember that loving this body of yours is not a prerequisite for attending to its needs. Care for it. Water it. Nourish it. Satisfy it. Reward it. Give it sunshine. Let it grow. Feed it when you are hungry and partake without guilt. Eating is not shameful. Do not add to the starvation. Do not add to the starvation. Fill your belly. You are allowed to satiate every bit of your hunger, no matter how much space your body occupies. You deserve sustenance, as all living things do, and you deserve to live.”
- After Uproar About Accessibility, Hunters Point Library Will Relocate Fiction Section, Gothamist. I’ve been following this ridiculous story, and while it’s good news that they’ve moved the fiction section somewhere actually accessible, this whole thing is classic architects vs. the people who actually have to live with the building. In this case, librarians, but also people with disabilities or mobility issues. (They’d tried to say that the design passed ADA laws because someone — library staff — could go get any book that was inaccessible to a patron. Both insensitive and a huge waste of everyone’s time.) The inaccessibility of this design can be seen from a mile away, I truly can’t understand who let this idea happen. This joke Twitter from the building’s perspective has TEETH and I love it. “Fiction is great. Our section is not accessible to the stair-challenged public, but our librarians will totally grab a book for you. You just gotta know what you want in advance. Browsing for books is not an option for the disabled at this state of the art, brand new, library.”
- “The Thing in Us We Fear Just Wants Our Love,” Julian K. Jarboe. Happy Halloween everyone, please enjoy this werewolf poem!