September 11, 2020

Polina Rytova

Hi, friends, how has this week been for you? Somehow even with a day off it felt like a long one for me. Someone just walked by and asked me how I am and I said, “Hangin’ in there,” like some kind of cranky sloth. Looking forward to getting out in nature this weekend (and playing a bunch of Dungeons & Dragons).

  1. Jesmyn Ward on Her Husband’s Death and Grief During COVID-19, Vanity Fair. “During the pandemic, I couldn’t bring myself to leave the house, terrified I would find myself standing in the doorway of an ICU room, watching the doctors press their whole weight on the chest of my mother, my sisters, my children, terrified of the lurch of their feet, the lurch that accompanies each press that restarts the heart, the jerk of their pale, tender soles, terrified of the frantic prayer without intention that keens through the mind, the prayer for life that one says in the doorway, the prayer I never want to say again, the prayer that dissolves midair when the hush-click-hush-click of the ventilator drowns it, terrified of the terrible commitment at the heart of me that reasons that if the person I love has to endure this, then the least I can do is stand there, the least I can do is witness, the least I can do is tell them over and over again, aloud, I love you. We love you. We ain’t going nowhere.” This essay made me cry at the library desk. Absolutely beautiful, essential reading.
  2. #1288: “Saying ‘No’ To The Dress & My Overbearing Sister”, Captain Awkward. “Tighten your circle of who is included in discussions of options (the person you are marrying, a very few people you trust to be supportive and excited) vs. who is informed of final decisions (everyone else, including unpleasant and controlling family).” I am someone who loves getting other peoples’ input, but also someone who has trouble making decisions when there are too many options, so this advice about keeping the feedback circle tight is helpful to me. Plus, OMG at this sister!
  3. Off the Rack, The Nib. “People perceived as male have always been punished as traitors for embracing the feminine, no matter what that means in the specific.” This is  nice lil comic about clothes from a gender-nonconforming perspective.
  4. Breonna Taylor’s Mom Talks About Her Murder by Police to Ta-Nehisi Coates, Vanity Fair. Pair this piece with Jesmyn Ward’s above. I think a lot of people have gotten used to seeing Breonna Taylor’s name (in protests, headlines, and memes), but this piece in her own mother’s words brings back her personhood. Did you know her boyfriend Kenny was about to propose? He had the ring and everything. That breaks my heart. “people want to see me. They want to say they’re sorry. They want to apologize for the police. They want to offer their condolences. They want to apologize for not listening. I can’t believe it. People are begging for forgiveness like, I’m sorry we weren’t listening. I just can’t believe it. I felt like with the whole pandemic, Breonna would be forgotten, and we would just get swept under the rug. And how do I feel then? Like, my God, somebody heard me. Like I finally caught my breath. That’s how I feel. Like I finally caught my breath.” Keep pushing for justice for Breonna Taylor.
  5. Face Masks: The New Fashion Category Of Our Generation, Refinery 29. “I can’t think of anything that has become as ubiquitous over this short a period of time,” says retail analyst Neil Saunders. With the speed of a fad and the urgency of an essential item, masks went from nowhere to omnipresent in the span of a few weeks. Today, masks can be found in drugstores, big-box stores, and even gas stations. They are — aside from perhaps underwear — the most regularly worn item in America right now.” Interesting to hear about the fashion industry’s response to the need for masks, but it’s hard for me to imagine wearing anything but homemade masks. “In these six months of mixed messaging, masks — even without bells and whistles (or rhinestones and beaded strawberries) — have clearly communicated a whole catalog of expressions: They’ve signaled political beliefs, tastes and preferences, as well as how neighborly, considerate, and kind their wearer is. The fact that a single garment can convey all of that is unusual, unprecedented, and unbearably heavy. These are qualities that uniquely define our commitments to one other in 2020. If anything is up for that task, it’s face masks — worn in sickness, and hopefully, in health.”

Donation station:

  • Anti-Racism Daily Newsletter I have found this newsletter incredibly informative in the past few months. They send you a daily email with a short news story or issue, explain it with context, and usually give you an action item (like a petition, donation, or legislation to support). Subscribe to their newsletter, and join me in donating $5 there today.

September 4, 2020

It was so nice to take August off from Friday5, but I’m also really happy to share things with you all again! The school semester has officially started where I work, so I’m writing this intro with a mask on, with mixed feelings — it’s comforting to see the campus, coworkers, my little office lamp, and a much-smaller number of students, but I’m also KNOCKED out at the end of the day. That looming feeling of ambient danger is exhausting! Here’s some stuff I read this week:

  1. COVID cases in college: Are partying students ruining fall semester?, USA Today. “None of [the public health guidelines] included student buy-in or asked students how they were planning to behave or what challenges they might encounter.” We’ve already seen a bunch of campuses struggling to contain COVID-19, citing off-campus parties as a main source of outbreaks. I think a chorus you’re going to hear a lot this semester is along the lines of, “My classmates are dumb and ruining this for all of us,” or “It’s the partying students that made these carefully-laid college reopening plans fail.” I strongly disagree with this, and I encourage you to consider all the pieces of the puzzle too. First off, if colleges couldn’t keep their 18-20 year olds from underage drinking and partying before a pandemic, I’m not surprised they can’t now. Plus, think of the developmental stage these traditionally aged college students are — at 18, I thought I was invincible, or at the very least, that I’d bounce back from anything. And after a year of missing graduations, proms, and senior trips, I kind of get it. Imagine being 18, mental health and identity issues emerging for the first time, isolated and alone in a dorm room. I’m not saying they’re blameless, these students definitely have ignored health warnings, but this is a problem colleges could have avoided by not re-opening the campus, or at the very least engaging in more intense harm reduction strategies. “There are things as 20-year-old humans that they’re going to do, so it’s about how you educate them,” Girard said. “It’s harm reduction, not ‘just say no.’” I don’t have all the solutions, but I can tell you that shaming and blaming young adults in this situation won’t get the outcome we’re hoping for.
  2. Fashion Trends Are Still Only for Skinny Bodies, InStyle. “Of course, any fat person with even a passing interest in fashion knows this has always been the case. Thin women in tight clothes are empowered for reclaiming their sexuality; fat women in tight clothing are criticized for being overly sexual. Thin women in baggy athleisure are celebrated for embracing the low key; fat women in baggy athleisure are chided for being sloppy and frumpy. Thin women in oversized blazers are adored for playing with androgyny; fat women in oversized blazers are criticized for rejecting femininity.” This piece also addresses the way that class intersects with fatphobia and other body stuff. “The voluminous high-waisted denim shorts I was forced to pull from the Misses section at Sears are the height of cool girl fashion. The wolf moon T-shirt is no longer the uniform of the kid who had to shop at a thrift store; it’s the Bushwick e-girl’s oversized shirt dress, worn for a selfie squatting next to her parents’ swimming pool.”
  3. Weeding Out Racism’s Invisible Roots: Rethinking Children’s Classics, School Library Journal. “I’m not advocating we ban classics. Or erase the past. Classics are undoubtedly examples of excellent writing, or they wouldn’t have survived the test of time. I’m just suggesting we study classics in social studies classrooms, where inherent ideas of inequity are exposed and examined; where Huckleberry Finn may be viewed as an example of literature that showcases the white lens. Delay the study of classics until readers are mature enough to question, debate, and defy subtle assertions. Dissect classics in college by setting aside time to delve into both literary merits and problematic assumptions. Redefine parochial notions of what “well-read” means; after all, British children are unaware of many celebrated American authors.” I really like this idea of challenging the canon of classic lit, especially for children. In particular, waiting until students are old enough to have a nuanced conversation about a book like Huckleberry Finn, rather than having Black students have to sit in a room with white classmates and read/debate the use of the N word. That is alienating and teachers shouldn’t put their students in that position when there are so many other books you could examine for a middle school class. A “new-classic” for middle grade readers that I would recommend is One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. I loved it — her narrative voice is literary but authentic to a young person’s perspective. 
  4. What was it like to be on Supermarket Sweep?, AV Club. David and I have been LOVING this show. One old season is on Netflix and I can’t think of anything more comforting and mindless to put on. This interview is a DELIGHT. “When you’re taping the show before the—I don’t even know what they call that round, but I think it’s the “Supermarket Sweep” round—you get about 10 minutes or so to walk around the supermarket so you can see the prices. Everything has a price on it, so you can see where everything is and then you kind of map out what you’re going to do. And it’s the weirdest things that were expensive, like hoses. And you can only get five of one thing. But hoses were $20. So it was like, “we’ve got to grab hoses,” and brooms were some ridiculous amount of money. That’s where we think the pricing was a little bit odd, because it was like they made cumbersome things expensive because of the comedy of you trying to hold brooms in your cart with hoses and having your cart stacked with diapers and all this with really expensive stuff.” I wondered about that, how people know right where to go! Also the MEATS WERE FAKE I REPEAT THE LARGE HAMS AND TURKEYS WERE FAKE
  5. All 282 American Girl Doll Outfits, Ranked, The Niche. Look, I’ll be honest that I didn’t read every word, but I wanted to share this with anyone else who would like to scroll through a giant page of classic American Girl Doll outfits. I’m glad Kirsten’s Christmas St. Lucia outfit is in the top 10, and this made me want to get all the books out of the library one by one. 

Donation station:

  • Donate to The Trevor Project – This week, join me in donating $5 to the Trevor Project, a live-saving mental health crisis hotline for LGBTQ teens and young people. 

Bonus feature:

July 24, 2020


How are we doing, friends? I hope your zucchini and tomatoes are coming in and that your flowers are digging these 5pm thunderstorms this week. I know my posting has been kinda bumpy this summer, and I’m probably going to take an intentional break in August, but until then, here’s a handful of things to munch on:

  1. A Better Fall Is Possible, The Atlantic. I have been thinking so much about the teachers and K-12 kids I know lately, as school districts are considering what to do about the fall. I know FCPS hasn’t decided yet, and I do hope it errs on the side of virtual and distance learning, despite the drawbacks (like difficulty accessing the internet and increased social isolation). This article has some thoughtful suggestions, including prioritizing elementary school kids and students in special education. I thought this was interesting: “To make this proposal feasible, we need to reorganize learning in the upper grades. We must trade the norm of individual teachers working in isolation for collective planning. For families that lack or opt out of in-person options, states, consortia of school districts, and large-school districts should provide centralized online-learning programs for all grades, including remote options for elementary grades, and fully online learning for upper grades. We should not be re-creating the wheel in each school building, when teachers could focus on supporting students.”
  2. Protesters Who Were Teargassed Say They Got Their Period Multiple Times in a Month, Teen Vogue. “Stewart says they were teargassed at protests multiple times, which they say resulted in them having a period four times in one month.” This is shocking and scary to me. It’s a sign that this tool is seriously damaging, and it’s safe to say this is chemical warfare. And tear gas can cause miscarriages and stillbirths! What are we doing using this on our people?! There’s more detail in the article, going into other effects on reproductive health, and I don’t see how you can draw any other conclusion than this is incredibly inhumane.
  3. Frog and Toad at 50: how Arnold Lobel’s book series influenced other children’s authors and illustrators, Slate. I love Frog and Toad. Their stories remind me of my Aunt Julie reading to me and the way that when you’re a child, the entire natural world is alive with personality. “The friendship between Frog and Toad is a model of “consistency, comfort, and forgiveness in a world that sometimes feels unsafe or confusing.” This is such a loving tribute. “In the relationship between these two sports coat–wearing amphibians, there’s something pure, something so full of a radiant joy you can only see in the midst of darkness. “It’s hard to find bighearted, joyful literature that acknowledges that very real sadness, that we all, kids included—maybe kids especially—feel.” And finally a quote from Frog himself: “I am happy. I am very happy. This morning when I woke up I felt good because the sun was shining. I felt good because I was a frog. And I felt good because I have you for a friend. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to think about how fine everything is.”
  4. Is it safe to travel or go outside during Covid-19?, Vox. I’d love to not be writing and reading about this anymore! But we’re seeing rising numbers again. Please be careful, my loves, and do the things you must do online, outside, and at a distance, as much as possible. One thing that was good to see is that routine medical and dental visits are relatively low-risk. I was bummed but understanding to read that tattoos, because they involve close proximity for a long time (even if masked), is a considerably risky activity. But I can wait! “You cannot drive 100 miles per hour on the highway. Even if you want to risk killing yourself, it’s not acceptable to kill others. The same is true for Covid-19.”
  5. Ask a Fat Girl: Fatphobia and Racism, Teen Vogue. “Fat Black people sit at the intersection of two discriminated against identities, and we’re watching in real time the ways in which law enforcement and other institutions use this as an excuse to treat them as disposable.” I love that Teen Vogue is doing this kind of reporting, and the illustration at the top of this article is beautiful.

Donation station:


  • Gasping for Justice – From the case statement: “There is an uncontrolled outbreak of COVID-19 at the Prince George’s County Jail. The people housed there-predominantly pretrial detainees-are under a constant and substantial threat of contracting the disease, and those already infected receive grossly substandard medical treatment (if they receive treatment at all). Because jails are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, the CDC has recommended basic measures these facilities should take to control the spread of the virus and treat infected prisoners-for example, providing prisoners with free access to soap and evaluating prisoners for symptoms. The PG County Jail has ignored these and other public health recommendations and as a result, nearly 600 people now imprisoned at the Jail are denied even the minimal precautions necessary to mitigate against the risks of COVID-19.” I’m going to donate to their bail fund (that’s the first link in this bullet, here’s the description of how the money will be used: “The funds raised will be used to pay bail for those who are being held pretrial in Prince George’s County jail. Freedom shouldn’t be given to only those who can afford to purchase their release.”) and sign their petition, please join me! 


Bonus features:



July 10, 2020


Oh, hi! Let’s breezily ignore the fact that I skipped last Friday and say it was for the holiday. How are you holding up? I’ve felt two primary emotions this week: anger and weariness. Tired of the endless mental calculations of risk and necessary activities during a pandemic, and so angry that it feels like I’m on fire under my skin. If you touched me right now, you’d burn yourself. There have been just so many preventable losses and despicable sins at the hands of the powerful. Cruelty and ignorance have stunned me: protesters against police violence being bombarded by excessive police violence; indignant refusal to wear a mask as if to say, “This strategy might help people and won’t hurt me, but I’m not doing it!” And somehow these two phenomena are linked, twined around each other like barbed wire. I am sharing things this week that feel like a respite from that.

  1. Jasmine Guillory on the Importance of Reading Black Fiction, Time. “Racism is not the only thing to know about what it means to be Black. Our joys, our sorrows, our love, our grief, our struggles to fit in, our families, our accomplishments and our triumphs—these things also matter. Black children matter, and not only the ones killed before their time. You may think you already know that, but history has proved otherwise. Black lives are not a problem to be solved or an academic text that can be studied. To recognize Black lives as ones to celebrate, empathize with and care about, here’s your antiracism work: read more fiction by and about Black people.” My fave, Captain Awkward, has historically given this advice when straight men write in asking for help dating women: Learn to empathize with women by reading and consuming media by them. Listen to women-led podcasts, women-directed movies, and access your understanding for the complexity of their lives. And I think this is a good practice for white folks wanting to do anti-racist work too, but also what a great reason to indulge in some pleasure reading!
  2. A love story about best friends, Vox. Ohhh! The last panel of this comic is so lovely. Yay to dear, dear friends.
  3. Hugs to look forward to after the pandemic, Eleanor Davis. This one was touching. I want to hug my friends and everyone again!
  4. Toward a Racially Just Workplace, HBR. “We can’t simply ask, “What’s the most lucrative thing to do?” We must also ask, “What’s the right thing to do?”
  5. Things to Do When You’re Bored, MentalFloss. A surprisingly solid variety of options here! Might actually try to memorize the prologue of the first LOTR movie….

Donation station:

  • The Loveland Foundation, a national organization dedicated to helping fund therapy for Black women and girls. I highlighted this one a few weeks ago, but this time I’m donating $5 and inviting you to match it with me on this Friday5! I’ve been stressed lately, but I realize how traumatic and stressful these times must be for Black women, and I really want to support this mission.

Bonus feature:

June 26, 2020

I’ve been playing the Sims lately. It’s so easy to make friends when you just click Get to Know over and over and pepper it with Tell a Funny Story every now and then…imagine. Anyway, if you’re not familiar or haven’t played since middle school, you’ve got to manage your Sim’s needs like Hygiene, Social, Fun, and Bladder. Not sure which of my needs isn’t being met as I write this (Hunger, probs), but I feel like my comments below might be kinda salty. Whoops! Enjoy.

  1. Non Appétit, Samantha Fore. “You grow up not feeling fair enough, smart enough, slim enough, accomplished enough, so you fight hard for everything you have. When the fruits of your labor start to show, you hope they get the chance to ripen, but ultimately, a white gatekeeper deems otherwise. Being Brown means you know exactly how shortsighted and self-serving these kinds of people can be. You know the deck is stacked against you, but you still don’t want to believe it. […] Being Brown means that you adjust to this being a normal way of life. Being Brown means that when you think you are about to get a career-changing opportunity, someone decides it doesn’t fit the brand and mutes you. You realize the irony, as many of the things they’ve elevated have appropriated Black and Brown culture. You’re 36. You realize that nothing has really changed from when you were 4. You aren’t permitted to convey the joys and triumphs you’ve had, the joy in your culture, the joy that somehow manages to flourish against all odds. You’re just Brown. Nothing more, nothing less.” I’ve been following the implosion at Bon Appetit, where courageous staff of color have revealed the inequities at the magazine, from unpaid contributors to the outright brownface of the (former) editor in chief. This piece puts a moment of discrimination and indifference in the context of this chef’s career and life history. She’s a good writer and also I want to try her food.
  2. ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ Mums Defend the Much-Maligned Decor Trend, Vice. You know what? I’ve been sick of “making fun of mom culture” for a bit. I’m not talking about the (rightful) social media skewering of white women who endanger Black lives with their tears and attempt to harness the police and other authorities to preserve their own fragility. No, that is a trend we gotta reckon with, because we “nice white ladies” are doing harm. Instead, my spicy take is similar to my feeling that the only people who can’t make fun of straight white girls are straight white dudes: I’m tired of seeing jokes that “punch down.” Like, it’s very likely your dang mom has been doing most of the work in your family for years and if you’re making fun of her decor, then I am suspicious of how much you actually appreciate her. Anyway! Let these moms live, laugh, love. Is it hurting anyone? No.
  3. Dear F*k-Up: My Close Friend Is Being Radicalized On the Internet and I Don’t Know What to Do, Jezebel. “I do think we have an obligation to intervene when our friends begin to mentally and morally curdle in front of our eyes. I know some people assert that the right thing to do is immediately and forcefully disavow anyone in your life who starts spouting hateful ideologies, but I’ve always struggled to understand how that helps. If you stop talking to her, others will be there to fill the void, which is basically how radicalization works.” This is specifically focused on a feminist person taking on transphobic attitudes, but I think it’s relevant to any of us when we watch someone we love come under the influence of a hateful or radicalized perspective. I liked this: “The question presented to the world time and time again may be worded differently but it always comes down to: Why aren’t we allowed to say this? Why aren’t we allowed to think this way? Why aren’t we alllllllllooooowed? Constantly whining about what you are and aren’t allowed to do is the preoccupation of children, and besides which, the answer is “you are.” In this world, you are always allowed to be cruel, and you always have been. It is no brave thing to stand with the powerful against those who dare live differently, it’s the easiest and most comfortable choice you can make.” And this sounds like something a British etiquette expert would murmur into a teacup: “How embarrassing it is to be cruel.”
  4. Are there alternatives to calling 911?, Chicago Reader. I love how they describe this workshop’s facilitated conversations as a “brave space,” one that goes beyond a safe space, where you confront discomfort with love. The participants reflect on their experiences calling the police: “They’d called the police in the first place because it didn’t seem like there was anything else they could do in those moments of fear and vulnerability. No one who volunteered to share stories knew what happened to the other parties involved.” This question is provoking and I think we should spend time on it: “Are there alternatives to calling 911?” I sat with a few friends in Baker Park the other day and we tried to come up with a couple different options, depending on the scenario. The things we came up with: Talk to your neighbors. Is your neighbor blasting music late at night or letting their dog bark for hours? It’s like if we went to the teacher to complain about minor and often harmless “disruptions,” and the first thing she would ask is “Well, did you ask them to stop?” Another one was: Wait and see. Sometimes a person sitting in their car in your neighborhood is just reading Google Maps and in a half hour they’ll have moved on. Another was: Examine your definitions of “peace” and “order,” because teenagers laughing loudly on the street might not be your definition of orderly behavior, but is it harming anyone? I liked this quote too: “Increasingly people discussed the frustrations of having to think around the state to address problems the state is supposed to be there to handle. Rather than not calling for professional help when we witness some sort of crisis, can’t we just have an assurance that the help won’t arrive armed and dangerous?”
  5. The Risks: Know Them, Avoid Them, Erin Bromage. This helped me think through risks and what I’m comfortable with. She explains the way the virus travels and places and circumstances make infection more likely, like indoor spaces with recycled air. “The reason to highlight these different outbreaks is to show you the commonality of outbreaks of COVID-19. All these infection events were indoors, with people closely-spaced, with lots of talking, singing, or yelling. The main sources for infection are home, workplace, public transport, social gatherings, and restaurants. This accounts for 90% of all transmission events. In contrast, outbreaks spread from shopping appear to be responsible for a small percentage of traced infections. Importantly, of the countries performing contact tracing properly, only a single outbreak has been reported from an outdoor environment (less than 0.3% of traced infections).

Donation station: Donate $5 with me for a local or national organization fighting for equality and in particular racial justice.

  • The Frederick Center: It’s Pride Month for one more week, let’s kick a little money toward the organization that helped Frederick earn a 100 on the HRC’s Municipal Equality Index. (That’s a pretty big deal!)