Hey hi happy Friday, etc. Listen, are you into wigs? Do you know anything about wearing, purchasing, caring for, or styling wigs? Like a kid after doing that dizzy-baseball-bat thing, I’ve stumbled into a new hobby and I seek the wisdom of my fake-hair friends. Anyway here’s some stuff to read!
- Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village, Crime Reads. Avoid all vats, because “in English villages, vats only exist for drowning people—in beer, in pickling brine, in whiskey, in jam. This is doubly true if the vat was built by 14th century monks. If anyone offers to show you a vat, say you need to get something from your car, then start the engine and run them over. The police understand this sort of thing. Tell them about the vat.” This is funny!
- NK Jemisin’s Dream Worlds, New Yorker. “I need to know how that person became who she is—a woman so angry that she was willing to move mountains,” she told me. “She was angry in a slow burn, with the kind of anger that is righteous, enough to change a planet. That’s a person who has been through so much shit that she has been pushed into becoming a leader. That’s an M.L.K. I needed to build a world that would explain her.” She’s talking about the main character in The Broken Earth Trilogy, which is the best fantasy series I think I’ve ever read. (Big spoiler alerts in this profile though!) I love the way Jemisin approaches world-building and I’m so inspired by her!
- ‘Weird News,’ ‘Dumb Criminals’ and the Media’s Monetization of Human Misery, The Appeal. “It may seem like humorless scolding, but the consequences of this type of demonization are real. A key feature of these stories — as seen in follow-up stories about the Taco Bell break-in by The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Fox 5 Atlanta, and several others — is mug shots that spread to hundreds of websites complete with the arrestee’s name. As I’ve reported elsewhere, this process of “mugshot shaming” ruins lives and stains one’s online reputation for decades to come. At the other end of these clickbait stories is a real human being, and to the extent that these are “news,” they are only so because the police see to it that they are.” This got me thinking and seeing those stories in a new light. After someone pointed out how crappy some of the viral autotune videos are, especially ones featuring Black folks (one about a brother protecting his sister from an assault, another about escaping an apartment fire), it clicked in a new way and I realized that I was consuming something without empathy. That line “at the other end of these stories is a real human being” is something I want to remember always.
- Opinion | How to Stop Freaking Out and Tackle Climate Change, NYT. “Imagine dense but livable cities veined with public transit and leafy parks, infrastructure humming away to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, fake meat that tastes better than the real thing, species recovering and rewilding the world, the rivers silver with fish, the skies musical with flocking birds. This is a future where the economic inequality, racism and colonialism that made decades of inaction on climate change possible has been acknowledged and is being addressed. It is a time of healing. Many ecosystems have changed, but natural resilience and thoughtful human assistance is preventing most species from going extinct. This is a future in which children don’t need to take to the streets in protest and alarm, because their parents and grandparents took action. Instead, they are climbing trees. This future is still possible. But it will only come to pass if we shed our shame, stop focusing on ourselves, join together and demand it.” Some actionable stuff here, as well as genuinely inspiring/encouraging words.
- Podcast Passivity, Real Life Mag. “If early radio programming was meant to “get into the home atmosphere,” the 21st century version belongs to a smaller, more contained theater: it’s like a podcast is set inside your own skull. More than a decade into my listening habit, I find myself on what feels like cellular, neurological intimacy with people I’ve never met — who don’t know I exist. And as podcasts have exploded, I’ve started to wonder about their cumulative effects. At what level do these encounters remain world-expanding and empathy-provoking? How much is too much other people to chug into your head?” I use podcasts to keep myself company, but yesterday my phone died on a walk with Persey and I was (the horror) left with my own thoughts. I could hear the sound of wind in the trees and the honking/snuffling noise of Persey’s nose in the grass. It was nice!
I’m struggling to keep up with my writing this week! In therapy a few weeks ago, I agreed not to take on any new commitments in my personal life, to spend extra time on self-inquiry and exploration, which has been a lovely intention. Big however, I apparently shunted that sign-up energy into the workplace, and the last week or two I’ve spent crawling out from under a scary long to-do list. I’m approaching balance again now, whew.
- ‘There should be clear warnings’: hair dye cancer risk stokes fear in black women, The Guardian. Wow, I did NOT know this risk. “A new landmark study that tracked almost 47,000 American women over eight years has found that using permanent hair dye increases a black woman’s risk of breast cancer by 45%, compared to an increased risk of 7% in white women.” Later the story reports that chemical hair straighteners also increase the risk of breast cancer. “About 74% of black women reported using chemical straighteners compared to only 3% of white women. “Black women straighten their hair to assimilate,” said Amelia Govan, 31, a sales rep who as a teenager straightened her hair every month. “We have to fit in – you never see black women with braids working in corporate.”
- Here’s Your 2020 Literary Film and TV Adaptation Preview, LitHub. The Turning looks like a spooky fun one. There’s some cool things on here as well as some I’d watch knowing they won’t live up to my own imagination — it’s fun enough just hanging out in that book world.
- Proposed Book Banning Bill in Missouri Could Imprison Librarians, PEN America. Yikes! Did you know that most books that have been challenged and/or banned at schools and libraries in the past few years have featured LGBTQIA characters or themes? This is an extension of the same impulse, with the intention of putting the weight of legal consequences on people who uphold the right to access information. “Under the act, the boards would hold public hearings to receive suggestions as to possible inappropriate books, and would have the authority to order the library to remove any such material from access by minors. Any public library who allows minors access to such “age-inappropriate materials” would have their funding stripped, and librarians who refuse to comply with the act can be fined and imprisoned for up to one year.”
- The Royal Museum for Central Africa’s Fraught Update, The Atlantic. “Museum professionals can now turn to a sudden plethora of books, symposia, workshops, and advice blogs about “creating conversation, not controversy,” “future-proofing” a museum, and handling protesters. The main problem, of course, is that so many monuments and museums were built a century or more ago by people who took colonialism, racial hierarchy, and slavery (or at least a benign Gone With the Wind view of the American South) for granted. You “can easily rewrite a textbook,” Lonnie Bunch, the founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (and now the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution), has said, “but you can’t rewrite a museum.” This is fascinating and disturbing, I’m glad I read it.
- The New York Public Library Has Calculated Its Most Checked-Out Books Of All Time, NPR. What’s your favorite on this list? Mine is Where the Wild Things Are! Also, a related Slate story a friend shared with me: “Why Goodnight Moon is missing from the New York Public Library’s list of the 10 most-checked-out books of all time.” Librarian taste-maker drama!
Bonus features for some lighter fare:
I was thinking this week about how every dog was one special Dog Power, be it the ability to grow and shrink in size, or to emit a soft colorful aura at will. It’s so nice how dogs have their special Dog Power but they don’t rub it in our faces that much, you know? Take for example, Penny (the orange one above). Her Dog Power is that she can understand human speech and even speak a fair bit, but she doesn’t brag. I myself have only ever known her Dog Power from the comprehension in her small dark eyes, but every now and then she’ll make a breathy little noise like she’s about to say, “Hey,” and thinks better of it. Dog Powers are subtle and gentle and usually manifest when we leave for work.
- #1245: “My Brand New Stepfather Thinks We Are On The ‘LW’S Mom Is Terrible Train’ Together. Help?”, Captain Awkward. “We spend so much time and energy worrying about communicating with people who don’t give a single shit about our feelings or our comfort. Can “do even less!” in 2020 be about changing that equation? […] Do we have to pull every mean and annoying person we know aside and earnestly and patiently discuss our boundaries, or spend all family gatherings navigating patiently around the people we don’t like and didn’t come to see? Or can we say a quick “hello” for routine politeness’ sake and because it would take more effort to freeze them out, and then go talk to the people we actually like?” I like that the Captain’s theme of doing less (2019) has graduated to do even less (2020) when it comes to the people who sap your vitality and are cruel. I love this thought especially for those circular, dysfunctional conversations: “‘Cause sometimes what the person who is behaving badly wants most is more of your attention, by any means necessary, and if they don’t get the initial high-five or commiseration or invitation to expound they hoped for, they’re willing to be loud and wrong if it means they can suck you into a longer conversation where you discuss the subject by which they mean they get to talk more about it.”
- The Twisted Ones, T. Kingfisher. This book gave me the heebie jeebies! A freaky monster story about a crabby woman named Mouse and her dog (who is confirmed to have survived the ordeal on like, page 3, which I appreciated), who go to North Carolina to deal with the remnants of a cruel relative’s hoarded house. I’m sure there’s scarier and grosser out there, but this gently pressed against my limits of spooky and spine-tingling, and I really enjoyed it!
- Every Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen Movie, Ranked by Surreality, Vulture. I remember watching these at a sleepover with a friend in high school and realizing just how wild these movies are. Weird early 2000s angles, a boy for each girl to kiss by the end, outfit montages, the SASS. And yet, due to my age and the power of their brand, Mary Kate and Ashley rein supreme in my world of teen celebrity icons. “They switch places with regularity. They are often kidnapped. Their parents are usually unmentioned — or appear only in voiceover, divorced, widowed, or dead. Their eyes always betray a profound sadness known only to overworked child stars.” Woof. One of the movies, which is nearly unwatchable if you are an adult, is the origin of “the infamous “Gimme Pizza” song, which is so deeply surreal and discomfiting that it enters the black hole of the uncanny and reemerges as completely normal and reasonable.” Does anyone want to have a sleepover and marathon these with me?
- The Kiss Cam, Behind the Scenes, Vox. This was cute! I didn’t know what went into those kiss cam scenes, and even knowing some of them are pre-arranged doesn’t take away from the sweetness you also see there. One of the joys of kiss-cams, I think, is “Hey! In this big crowd of many people, we’re all individuals, look at that!”
- Puppy Dog Bouncin’ (In the Box), RxCKSTxR. Still obsessed with this adorable song. “You a good puppy, you ain’t sassy / You don’t lick me in the face, that’s nasty…” Obsessed.
Hello I am back and it is 2020! I’m thinking about easing into January this year, like when you pour yourself a bath and it’s a little too hot so you go in a few body parts at a time. Right now I have lowered myself up to the knees but my butt hasn’t touched the hot water of the new year yet. Enjoy what I’ve managed to read thus far!
- The Communal Mind, Patricia Lockwood. “She lay every morning under an avalanche of details, blissed: pictures of breakfasts in Patagonia, a girl applying foundation with a hardboiled egg, a shiba inu in Japan leaping from paw to paw to greet its owner, white women’s pictures of their bruises – the world pressing closer and closer, the spider web of human connection so thick it was almost a shimmering and solid silk.” Patricia Lockwood stresses me out but she captures what it feels like (terrible) to spend too much time on the internet. Oof: “Late one night when you were idly typing in searches: Why am I tired all the time? Why can I no longer memorise a seven-minute monologue? Why is my tongue less pink than it was when I was a child? (There were only two questions at three in the morning, and they were Am I dying? and Does anybody really love me?)” This talk made me want to go out and look at a tree for a while.
- Why Calendars Are So Weird, and What Might Be Done About It, Atlas Obscura. “The economist and the astronomer created the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar, a variation on the Gregorian. It’s not wildly different, really. There are still twelve months, with the same names. There are still seven days in a week. But the number of days in each month are changed; each quarter has 30 days in its first two months and 31 in its third month (for a total of 364 days). Say goodbye to January 31 and hello to February 30.” Buh??? This is wild but I’m kind of down for how their calendar accommodates leap years, by adding a “whole new week, which they call Xtra, between December and January, every five or six years.” How was your Xtra week?
- The 2010s Have Broken Our Sense Of Time, Buzzfeed. “The 2000s were a bad decade, full of terrorism, financial ruin, and war. The 2010s were different, somehow more disorienting, full of molten anxiety, racism, and moral horror shows. Maybe this is a reason for the disorientation: Life had run on a certain rhythm of time and logic, and then at a hundred different entry points, that rhythm and that logic shifted a little, sped up, slowed down, or disappeared, until you could barely remember what time it was.” My one critique of this read is that those gifs follow you down the page and make it hard for the ole eyes.
- 100 Books That Defined the Decade, LitHub. In the last few weeks of the year there were a lot of “X of the Decade” pieces, and I thought sharing a book-focused one was appropriate here. As the list says, this isn’t someone’s round-up of the best, but of which books defined the decade (good or bad), and for that reason I enjoyed skimming, half-reading through it, because every few minutes I’d be like, “Oh yeah, that book.”
- “we slidin,” Twitter user @roob_drummer. Here is the tweet in full: “snowing hard this morning. Bus driver slid through a red light. Only thing he said was “we slidin” i cant stop thinking about this”