October 18, 2019

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We had this mug forever growing up. This Etsy shop was selling it and took a good photo of it.

I’m writing this intro at the reference desk on the night of my late shift. I still have about an hour and a half to go and I can no longer feel my butt, so we’re doing some standing desk/lunge writing! No one told me I’d sit this much as a librarian (although I don’t think the knowledge would have turned me away from the career). The wind is howling through the weird atrium in the center of the library and it’s all Very Atmospheric. I really like every one of the 5 things I’m sharing with you this week, and I hope you do too:

  1. Gardening Games Are Blossoming in Turbulent Times, The Verge. This is my type of game! “What the Animal Crossing games, Stardew Valley, and Ooblets all do is mix free-form play with a relaxed atmosphere, elements which seem to have resonated with players keen for a change of pace from the barrage of stimuli and hyper-kineticism video games are best known for. They’re chill in the same way real gardening is.” Another reason I like these games is that they’re noncompetitive and no one can see me struggle with keyboard controls or blow myself up with my own grenade. Gentle games for this gentle girl!
  2. Emotional Expression Through Baking, Bon Appetit. “Life is not easy. It’s hard to say, “I care about you.” But it is not hard at all to make boxed brownies.” I think you will really enjoy reading this one. This section reminds me of my mom’s thorough scraping of pots and bowls: “Then, one day, near the end of the year, a faculty member, Erik, taught me to bake sourdough bread. Erik had two children. I still remember him carefully scraping each bit of dough off his hands and collecting it in the bowl: “Each scrap is another bite for them,” he said.” My mom would say, “That’s a bite!” if my spatula didn’t catch that bit of chili on the side of the pot. I would have just left it there when I was a kid, but now I see that last chunk of pot roast or lonely potato and think, “That’s a bite!” Boys, learn how to make tender things for the sole pleasure of sharing them with friends! A beautiful little piece.
  3. Why the Library of Congress is Archiving Government-Made Memes, Rolling Stone. As anyone who’s done social media for a company or institution knows, corporate memeing can be super corny and fall flat. So here’s a cool success story about the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Twitter. “The CPSC memes will reside within the “Government Publications — United States” collection, which boasts items distributed by the government (mostly federal, but also some state and local) as far back as the country’s founding. In this way, while the CPSC memes capture a new shift in government communication, there is a vast historical precedent for them. The Great Baby, for instance, exists on the same continuum as Smokey the Bear, while Walker cites the LoC’s collection of comic books that government agencies once issued as a way to reach younger readers.” Archives collect the records that represent a culture, a community, or a project, and you might think that memes are a less serious mode of communication but they are actually a super influential medium, and I think it’s good that the Library of Congress is archiving them.
  4. Sandra Boynton’s Captivating Universe, The Atlantic. (CW: There is a brief mention of loss of people and pets in this.) Sandra Boynton kind of rules. I love this part: “Like Fred Rogers, Boynton treats children, even very young ones, with deep respect. Like Sendak (whom she calls an “unfailingly and affectionately supportive” mentor), she accepts that kids already encounter the distress of adulthood. But Boynton also makes a space for children and adults to occupy together. Take this line about a throng of Halloween chickens: “One heard a robot intone: Trick or treat.” Suzanne Rafer, Boynton’s editor of 38 years at Workman Publishing—one of two publishers that print Boynton’s books—passed on sales agents’ objections to the verb intone: “We’re reading this to a zero-year-old.” Boynton’s reply: “All language is new to a kid. Why not invite them into a vocabulary that’s special from the beginning?” And apparently there’s only one board-book printer left in the United States?!
  5. Congratulations to Holly, America’s Fattest Bear, The Cut. “Fat Bear Week, for those of you who have not yet been blessed with the knowledge, is a March Madness–style bracket competition held every year by Katmai National Park in Alaska, which allows the public to vote and decide which of the park’s brown bears has beefed itself up the most for their upcoming winter hibernation.” They’ve picked their winner and she’s precious and I love this fall tradition so much!

October 11, 2019

This was one of those weeks that makes me wanna say “wow, this was one of those weeks.” A real rollercoaster, but I hung in there and managed not to barf. Nothing too heavy in my offerings this week, but I hope you have a great weekend!

  1. How VH1’s I Love the… Created a Generation of Culture Students, The Ringer. I loved this series and ate up as much of it as I could catch on other people’s TVs until we got cable! “Hidalgo and Tinelli emphasize that they were trying to craft conversations about the collective experience, particularly when it came to the pre-internet, pre–social media eras when such experiences existed on a mass scale but without the social media component that enabled people to connect over them.” Also a bunch of the full episodes are (as of publication) available on YouTube so you know what your girl will be catching up on this weekend.
  2. Don’t Make These Dumb Jokes About People’s Jobs, Lifehacker. This was a kinda funny roundup of jokes professionals are tired of hearing on the job. You think you’re making the joke for the first time, but that person has heard the joke a bunch of times already and it’s gotten old. And in general, just good advice: “Next time you’re about to deliver a witticism to someone who’s doing their job—or make a joke about their name, or about their physical appearance or something else they can’t control—ask yourself two things: 1. Is it conceivable that someone has made this joke before? 2. If this person doesn’t like your joke, are they at all socially obligated to pretend they did? If the answer to either is yes, do not make that joke!”
  3. The Orange, Wendy Cope. This poem has been going around online and I think we all need to read it. “I love you. I’m glad I exist.”
  4. I Don’t Know Who Needs to Hear This But You Shouldn’t Get Your Nutrition Info From Influencers, Self. “I’ve urged influencers to do the research and be more responsible with the information they’re promoting throughout their platform. I’ve said that it’s important to know the difference between anecdotal evidence and randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials that are published in peer-reviewed journals (the gold standard when making health claims—and even these have their limitations and can’t necessarily be generalized to everyone). But of course it’s more than knowing which data to use. You also have to have the training to be able to sift through the science and draw meaningful conclusions from it. Not just anyone has the foundation required to interpret a study’s findings.” The critical-thinking questions in this article are good, and I wanna share them with my students. I think second to political misinformation, health and wellness misinfo is the most dangerous stuff out there for the average internet user. And it’s so pervasive and hits right at a vulnerability for a lot of people. Gets me HEATED.
  5. “The Seven Friendships,” from Pursuit by Erica Funkhouser. Two poems this week. If this link doesn’t bring you to the beginning of the poem, it’s on pages 62-65. This one is just fun and makes me wanna talk about friendship. I don’t particularly relate to any of these friendships, except for “friendship / based on the exchange of gifts, / preferably ridiculous.”

October 4, 2019

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These amazing bronze Basset Hounds are snuggling on the sidewalk in Loveland, CO

My dearest cousin is getting married tomorrow! According to the fantastic Fall Foliage Prediction Map, we’ll be in the partial-peak of the leaves changing color, and I’m excited to celebrate with her in this, the finest time of the year. I love going to weddings, but it’s best when it’s someone you love so much and know so well. Looking forward to my heart metaphorically bursting.

  1. Learning is Supposed to Feel Uncomfortable, HBR. “While the act of learning is primarily intellectual, behavioral, or methodological, the experience of learning is primarily emotional. And it’s the emotional experience of learning — of being a beginner and making mistakes, often publicly — that often keeps people from even trying to learn.” Lately I have been thinking about the affective element of teaching. I love this! As we get older, it feels like there’s fewer things you absolutely have to learn — you finish your schooling, you start your work or your daily routines and things become straightforward. Librarians and educators talk about wanting to encourage “life-long learners,” because it’s so good for your brain to be learning new things. This summer David and I have started learning how to play baseball. We’ve been watching YouTube videos (created for little kids learning to hold their very first bat), throwing a lot of terrible pitches, and sweating in the park. But the feeling of finding progress, slow and clumsy as it is, has been one of my favorite memories of this summer. I’m still an absolute beginner, but I have started to notice when things feel right, like when I know the pitch I’m throwing is going to go right across the plate where I intended. Learn new things! Don’t be afraid to be embarrassed by being a beginner, it’s a doorway to some of the best things in life. I also like the part of this article that talks about “emotional courage,” to feel all your feelings honestly.
  2. Nancy Pelosi: An Extremely Stable Genius, New Yorker. “When I asked Pelosi if she thought Trump knows, in this instance or any other, the difference between right and wrong, she replied, “He knows the difference between right and wrong, but I don’t know that he really cares. I do think his categorical imperative is what’s good is what is right for him. In the campaign, he told us who he was. He said that he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and nobody would care, that his supporters wouldn’t care. Well, he could violate our Constitution, the integrity of our elections, and dishonor his oath of office, as he did in this call, and think that nobody cares.” I think that’s a helpful perspective as someone who cannot relate to or understand any of this president’s motives. For a while after the Mueller report I was thinking like “Pelosi, just give this the greenlight, it’s cut and dry in my eyes,” but I find I do admire her for the gravity and care she has taken on this. She isn’t relishing this process, and I am not rejoicing about it either. It’s going to be a hard road for this country and I hope we can muddle our way through toward our better angels.
  3. Tuna Noodle Casserole: It Only Sounds Disgusting, Heated. I love Samantha Irby’s writing. “(if you shell a single pea for this recipe, you’re a fed)” I would read a cookbook of recipe/memoir essays if she wrote it. I would read Xerox machine instructions if she wrote them!
  4. The “Cancel Culture Con,” The New Republic. I’ve been seeing this article make the rounds on social media but also some education conversations at work. So much of what we talk about with new college students is critical thinking and nuance, and this distinction is important in my mind: we may have freedom of speech from the government, but not freedom from consequences from our peers. This piece also suggests that some winging about political correctness/free speech has more to do with aging or classing into irrelevance for some of these comedians. “As far as comedy is concerned, “cancel culture” seems to be the name mediocrities and legends on their way to mediocrity have given their own waning relevance. They’ve set about scolding us about scolds, whining about whiners, and complaining about complaints because they would rather cling to material that was never going to stay fresh and funny forever than adapt to changing audiences, a new set of critical concerns, and a culture that might soon leave them behind. In desperation, they’ve become the tiresome cowards they accuse their critics of being.”
  5. September 2019 Short Questions (Part 1), Captain Awkward. “Hi Affluent Fellow White People, YOU are the one who bought a house next to [a college that’s been here since the 18th century][a string of rowdy bars called “The Manhole,” etc.][A Whole Bunch Of Not-White People Living Their Lives]. Learn to go with the flow of the neighborhood you just showed up in and STOP calling the police on your neighbors for living, it’s racist, obnoxious, and it gets people killed. The police aren’t ‘the manager’ you get to use to make a place conform to your baby’s sleep schedule, and your neighbors are good enough not to call the cops on you when the little angel shrieks through the night and your jealous, neglected beagle joins the chorus. Being alive makes noise. If you can’t adapt to the vibe of the ‘hood or building you chose, it’s probably time to move somewhere you’ll be “more comfortable” and scout your next dwelling-place for sound at multiple times of day to make sure it’s something you can actually live with without becoming a nuisance.” Captain Awkward does these short Q&As every so often, and while a lot of her advice is good, this passage in particular is golden. Especially thinking about zoning in Frederick and other places, as well as the rude and racist grousing I keep seeing in my neighborhood’s NextDoor (“teenage shenanigans!” I see you, Tabitha). LOVE YOUR DANG NEIGHBOR people.

Bonus features:

September 27, 2019

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Whoa I’m about to turn 28! To celebrate, David and I (and anyone else I can peer pressure) have been watching a kids show called Gravity Falls. The premise is two siblings who spend the summer with their great-uncle, who runs a tourist trap called the Mystery Shack in Oregon. Most of the mysteries in his shack are fakes, but the twins find real mysterious and surprisingly dark things (for a Disney show) in the town of Gravity Falls. It has a very satisfying conclusion and is affirming of siblings, friendship, adventure, and teamwork. And anyone who believes in Bigfoot or Nessie. I recommend it!

  1. The Latest Online Craze is Submitting to the Mortifying Ordeal of Being Known, The Verge. David doesn’t get why this meme is funny but I love that line: “If we want the rewards of being loved, we have to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known.” It’s also kind of wild to hear from someone whose turn of phrase has gone viral, untethered from the original and personal meaning and into something universal, comedic, and also kinda tragic.
  2. The Great Everywoman Outfit Contest of 1915, Narratively. “They were drawn to the Polymuriel for the way it might make life easier for women of their class, allowing them to move between teas, concerts, meetings, dinners and other social engagements without the need for expensive and time-consuming costume changes. Mrs. Palmer, in particular, wanted an inclusive style that would suit women of all shapes, sizes and ages. A widely syndicated article about the contest quoted her requirements in detail: “Its silhouette should not too strongly suggest an umbrella, a knitting needle, an hour glass, a pyramid, inverted or otherwise, or other of the geometric forms into which women have from time to time tortured their bodies.” In The New York Times a few weeks later, she made a demand that still resonates today; when asked what she most wanted in the Polymuriel, she said: “Let’s have pockets.” This is an interesting story about women in 1915 trying to develop clothes that would be easy to move in, stylish no matter the trends, and take about as much time to think about and put on as a men’s suit would. People still talk about finding their “uniform” to free up mental space (which is kinda funny because if you actually wear a uniform for your job, they’re a little less of a romantic notion). “The question of how to balance professionalism and fashion, femininity and anonymity, has preoccupied working women ever since. Today, to walk through midtown Manhattan on a summer weekday is to be struck by the uniformity of men’s business clothing — shirts in 50 shades of blue. By contrast, womenswear is all diversity: subtle calibrations of formality, coverage and color. A work uniform for women is still elusive, perhaps because there is no outfit that will make a woman disappear. Equal treatment in the office, in the street, in politics, and in private life, is a matter of more than clothes.”
  3. In Defense of Screen Time, Bjorn Jeffery. I thought this transcript of a talk was interesting, in part because I am naturally inclined to want to reduce my time looking at screens whenever possible. This is a short read and I encourage you to check it out, but here’s his 4 takeaways if you’re pressed for time, or don’t want to read anything else on a screen today:
    1. What matters is what is on the screen, not the screen itself. Help your kids find the right thing for them. There’s so much great stuff out there. Don’t assume that your kids have necessarily found it themselves. And if they have found something – help them to use it the right way. What matters is what is on the screen, not the screen itself.
    2. Consider the context. How are your kids playing? Are they doing it together with others – siblings, friends, online friends? Is the screen the main part of the activity, or actually a facilitator of something else? If you think Fortnite is about shooting each other, you haven’t been paying attention. Is there an opportunity for you to participate in the activity? You can probably add layers to any activity that is going on, creating both a learning opportunity as well as a shared space between you and your kids. Consider the context.
    3. Encourage variety. I think there’s much to be gained from Fortnite, but I wouldn’t suggest playing and streaming it for 8 hours straight everyday. But come to think of it – there are very few activities I would recommend for 8 hours straight everyday. Go beyond the screen and ensure that your kids have varied activities in all places – including with screens. Encourage variety.
    4. Treat the screen like you would anything else. When I was the CEO of Toca Boca and tried to explain my job to people, almost everyone said “ah, you mean educational apps”. It was precluded that if you make apps for children, their primary purpose must be education. There’s no other area in kids lives that you would hold to that standard. What if all food you served your kids had to have a specific nutritional formula? That’s interesting in theory, but anyone saying that has never been in a car with a hungry toddler. Different circumstances call for different solutions.”
  4. You Too Can Have a Viral Tweet Like Mine, The Paris Review. Another “writing about internet phenomenon” pieces I read this week, but with some fun digging into poetic meter and the ways you can switch out lyrics or lines from poetry with each other (famously, singing Emily Dickinson poems to the tune of the Gilligan’s Island theme). My favorite example of conspicuous iambic tetrameter in speech is when Maude talks about the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers, yes, “and PROUD we ARE of ALL of THEM.”
  5. The Awkward But Essential Art of Small Talk, NYT. Whenever I start a new job or enter a new place I temporarily forget how to have a personality and make small talk. These tips are pretty good, including preparing a few anecdotes ahead of time (Mr. Bennet: “May I ask whether these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are the result of previous study?” Mr. Collins: “They arise chiefly from what is passing at the time, and though I sometimes amuse myself with suggesting and arranging such little elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible.”), and remembering to ask questions of the other person. This article also introduced me to the “Shake and Fold” method of drying your hands with paper towels and it’s a real game-changer.

Bonus features:

September 20, 2019

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I recently had the chance to re-pack my ~25 journals into a better storage system and came across this amazing list in the back of one of my notebooks. It had two columns, one with the title “Things Emily Likes” and one with the title “Things Timothy Likes.” My list included excellent things like “cheeseburgers” and “neopets” and “mulch.” My brother Tim’s list had “corn mazes,” “athletics” and “talking.” Basically what I’m saying is that it’s really fun to revisit records of yourself from childhood, in whatever form you might have them. I was a very tender and very sincere kid!

  1. Underground Railroad Quilt Codes: What We Know, What We Believe, and What Inspires Us, Folklife. “At its center, a quilt is an assemblage of historical and creative cues in the form of fabrics, shapes, symbols, textures and colors. Quilts were often made to commemorate important family events such as marriage, a birth, or moving to a new place. Often made from scraps of old dresses, burlap sacks, and dish cloths, it gives physical, even functional, form to a family or individual’s past and present.” This is a super interesting discussion of whether or not quilt codes were used in the Underground Railroad, which is a conversation that a lot of historians are divided on. Either way, “Quilts allow Tindall to sustain a conversation about these men and women who were valiant, who fought slavery by taking the ultimate chance—running, and maybe even trusting the message on a blanket when everything was at stake—and encouraging others to do the same.” This also introduced me to the wonderful Quilt Index, an open access digital repository of images and info about thousands of quilts! Browse by year or other categories at this link.
  2. How Mom Jeans Became Cool (Again),The Atlantic. “But McClendon suggested that there’s more driving the shift toward modest, comfortable, practical clothing than playful irony. After the 2016 election and the national reckoning with powerful men’s sexual misconduct sparked by the #MeToo movement, she began to notice a clear “shift away from extremely sexy clothes, toward a more unisex style,” she told me. She saw women ditch their stilettos for designer sneakers and their dresses for tailored suits. “The tight clothes, the high heels—there was this general sense of Why am I wearing these things?” As the national mood sobered, McClendon noted, the body-punishing, form-fitting extremes to which high-profile women pushed their looks in the 2000s (McClendon pointed to Lady Gaga and her famously tall heels as an example) gave way to androgynous shapes and looks that prioritized comfort. Today, the zeitgeist-iest young pop star of the moment is 17-year-old Billie Eilish, “who wears very large, oversized clothing that’s completely body-obscuring and unisex,” she added.” Interesting. I can relate to the idea that women/people in general are gravitating toward unisex and shapeless clothing as a result of gender dynamics and feeling objectified. For me, the thought process lately has been, “There is so much bad happening in this world! I have so much work to do! I cannot be squeezed into these skinny jeans anymore. I need room.”
  3. The Hardest Stunt I Ever Pulled Off, Vulture. WOW the stunts described in this piece are cool and stressful to imagine completing. “I would never do that one again and I would never ask anybody else to do something like that again. In today’s world, we would do it with a much smaller explosion and enhance the fire in the background with CGI, and also put the guy on a cable so he can never really hit the ground. Back then, we didn’t have the safety. The way we did it was the only way to do it.” Dang!
  4. Advice from Therapists on What to Do When You Feel Lonely, The Cut. My favorite piece of advice: “One thing to remember in our age of instant gratification is that friends aren’t found; instead, friends are made — crafted, really — over time. It takes between 6–8 conversations before someone considers us a friend. We wish we could walk into a party, instantly connect, and walk out arm-in-arm with a new BFF, but really it’s an incremental process. The good news is that the bar to start is low. It’s been shown again and again that, as long as we are mutually kind to each other, we become friends with whoever we see most often. Proximity and repetition are key. So put yourself in situations where you see the same faces again and again: a dog park at the same time each morning, a weekly writer’s workshop, or a co-working space.”
  5. It’s Time to Let Meat Loaf into Your Embarrassing Little Heart, Electric Literature. On the 5 feelings that the first 10 minutes of Bat Out of Hell expresses: “Motorcycle—not classically a feeling, no, but what else can be said about the lyric “I’m gonna hit the highway like a battering ram/ on a silver-black phantom bike” except that it encapsulates the feeling of Motorcycle—that is to say, motorcycle-qua-motorcycle, the Springsteenian motorcycle, the emblem of masculine longing to get out?”  This look at that wild album is really sympathetic and cute and reminds me of David. “Meat Loaf offered his slobbering heart on a silver tray, and so did we all before we knew better, and thus did he violate one of the cardinal covenants of artistic maturity: as adult creators, we are never again to partake of the gasping desperation of those teenage years once they pass us by. If we only wrote what we felt, we’d be teen idols forever, enslaved and enfeebled by our emotions. If we said what we felt as soon as we felt it, what havoc we would wreak!” Also I like how often the author refers to the feeling of Motorcycle.