January 24, 2020

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.

  1. ‘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.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.
  5. 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:

January 17, 2020

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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.

  1. #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.”
  2. 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!
  3. 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?
  4. 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!”
  5. 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.

January 10, 2020

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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!

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.”
  5. “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”

Bonus features:

December 20, 2019

Today’s my last workday before the break! I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure I’m gonna take the next 2 Fridays off from the ole 5. Not that I won’t be reading (I have a stupid amount of library books checked out right now), but because I want to be quiet for a little bit. Catch my breath, eat a cookie, play Legos. All the good stuff. Have a wonderful holiday, and see you next DECADE.

(PS – Happy birthday to my dear dad!)

  1. Every December, Japan is Awash in Elegant Christmas Cakes, Gastro Obscura. “A mash-up of American and French pastry, the Japanese Christmas cake is a secular symbol of celebration that arose after decades of media promotion of Christmas as a stylish, romantic event.” PRETTY CAKES also this quote is a little piece of interesting history: “As the country finally left behind the impoverished postwar period and became more prosperous, Japanese people rapidly adopted the refrigerator along with the black-and-white television and the washing machine, dubbing them the “Three Sacred Treasures.”
  2. What to Do When a Perfectly Lovely Friend is Kind of the Worst Online, Vice. “Social media is a weird mix of job fair, horny house party, high school reunion, office happy hour, group chat, and reality TV competition, and the currency and local language changes depending on the app or specific circle you’re in in a given moment.” So many problems with friends being annoying on social media are elegantly solved by the Mute/Unfollow button. This piece has good advice!
  3. Grab Your Wallet, Here Are the Most Expensive Books Ever Sold, Bookriot. Not much to say about this one, but I thought it was Neat!
  4. The Witches are Coming, Lindy West. Love Lindy West. This book was a good read, clear-eyed, darkly funny, but also hopeful. “Think of the Parkland mass shooting survivors, who, in the thick of unimaginable trauma, rejected the typical thoughts, prayers, and shrugs from their government — the blatant lie that there simply is no way to keep children from being slaughtered at school — and helped pass sixty-seven new gun laws in 2018. Those kids were born after 9/11 into a fractured place. They didn’t get any quiet years, I guess, when, in many communities (not all, of course) the end of the world felt abstract and far away. Young people are here and strong and smart and fierce, and they do not intend to die. They are artists and scientists and leaders, and we just have to show up and fight for them, and with them, every day until we die. It is not their job to save us — we are the parents — but may they inspire us to help them save themselves. I feel afraid in this moment, but I do not feel hopeless.”
  5. 10 Biggest Sports Stories of the 2010s, NY Mag. “Sports can make you feel terrible sometimes. But in an age where sometimes it feels like everything makes you feel terrible … sports can also still make you feel good, often right when you most need them to. And that’s not nothing.” There are a lot of decade-in-review pieces going around right now; I liked this one.

December 13, 2019

Resuming therapy and in a season of self-curiosity, I’ve been drawn to essays about healing, gratitude, and recovery. I hope you enjoy this week’s selection!

  1. “Yelp Reviews of Fast Food,” Electric Literature. The McDonalds one is my favorite of these cute, slightly animated comics by Mary Shyne.
  2. To the Teeth #4, Entropy. “While I healed, I remembered that habits—this includes the mind—take at least three weeks to stick, and teenagers need five positive interactions for every other one. So I pretended I was my own teenager. I held her tight, kept her in the light, and I told her she could do this, which often sounded more like trust yourself. Trust what you’re doing. If you almost lost it, it means you didn’t. If you write it down, it means it is in the past. It means you can stand in the burning house and not be the burning house. I wanted to write this column because Mariame Kaba says that if we can pass down trauma, we can pass down healing.”
  3. The Difficult Art of Giving Space in Love: Rilke on Freedom, Togetherness, and the Secret to a Good Marriage, Brain Pickings. “Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole and against a wide sky!” I have to work to understand the passages shared in this Brain Pickings, but I found it rewarding to dig through. Here’s another: “For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.”
  4. Little Weirds, Jenny Slate. I actually read this a few weeks ago and just haven’t had the time to share it. But images from it keep bubbling back up in my day to day, so I know it touched me. It’s a book of strange essays and what I’ll call “extended tweets” about identity, whimsy, and recovery. I copied many passages from this book into my journal, and here’s a sample: “I am the croissant that felt its own heat and curves and wished to become a woman, and I am that woman from the wish. Let me be your morning treat with your coffee. Disregard the fear that I am too rich to be an ordinary meal. Allow my antique decadence into your morning into your mouth. Pair me with jam. Treasure me for my layers and layers of fragility and richness. Name me after a shape that the moon makes. Have me in a hotel while you are on vacation. Look at me and say, “Oh, I really shouldn’t,” just because you want to have me so very much.” That’s the whimsy. Here’s a sample from the recovery: “It occurs to me as I fight so hard with myself that these cruel and persistent voices are the echoes of trauma from the times when people treated me like I am now treating myself. And that, perhaps, it is possible to close an inner door and shut out voices that are not mine. In the last light of a long day, I sit on a chair on my porch and watch the sky drain colors down and out and I realize I want to hear my voice and only mine. Not the voice of my voice within a cacophony of old pains. Just mine, now.”
  5. Column of Light, Gay Mag. “I wonder if gratitude would be a more compelling emotion if we allowed ourselves to feel it to its fullest — in our wrists, in our fingertips. If we learned to recognize its presence, greeting it as it arrives. Sometimes I’m walking down the street in Brooklyn and I’m overcome by a feeling of thankfulness — of being alive, of being alive in this very moment — so strong I have to put both hands over my chest. Gratitude wrings out my body like a towel. It breaks open my heart like a piece of balsa wood clenched in two fists. And I let it. I allow it to feel like a bolt of lightning, or better yet: that there has appeared a column of light, and I can step inside.” Lovely.