July 12, 2019

Henry and Mudge

I wrote this post early because by the time you read this, I’ll be on vacation! Just a couple short or light pieces this week:

  1. The Oral History of the Super Soaker, MEL magazine. I kind of love inventor stories. Super Soaker was one of those toys whose makers really cared about the product, and I like the design loyalty that comes with that over the years. This piece also made me realize that Nerf guns have gotten very militarized looking, which I don’t care for at all. “Part of the reason Super Soakers did so well is because they look nothing like a real weapon. They’re these things with giant orange nozzles, and they’re made to look like these space-alien things. To be honest, when we were kids, my friends and I would cover them with black tape and stuff, but for how they actually looked, you can’t mistake them for a real gun.” Plus a lot of people now like to make their own water blasters and modify their old 90s ones! “I started Waterarms Over Firearms about seven or eight years ago. It started with my own love of Super Soakers as a kid, and when I rediscovered it as an adult, I began acquiring old Super Soakers at yard sales and eventually via Amazon and eBay. Then I’d organize events where I’d give them to children and spread the philosophy that this is a peaceful gun — a water-arm that actually has a life giving ammunition. My hope is to help change these children’s attitudes about guns. I’ve made a point of visiting children in places that are heavily affected by gun violence — many of which are children of color — and I let them know that this peaceful gun was invented by a black inventor and that they can use it to have fun and give life as opposed to taking it away.” Now, who would like to have a water gun/balloon fight ASAP?
  2. Why Those Plus-Size Model Mannequins Matter, Glamour. Curvy plus-size mannequins at Torrid made me feel seen the first time I walked in there. “To place a plus mannequin on the store floor, front and center, is to proudly state that you stand for every single size you offer, that you believe that no matter the number on the shopper’s tag, they’re valuable and should have options to choose from. It signifies a mentality change from selling clothes by pushing an ideal to embracing who your customer is when they walk in.” I think this is true, but fashion retailers could all do better, from actually carrying plus sizes in-store and not online-only, to design that isn’t just a stretched out version of the straight size (my mom’s nemesis is the huge scooping neckline, like I saw in this review online: “Why do plus clothes makers think we need 2 foot round neck holes . Its crazy . Just how big do they think our heads are ? The size of beach balls ?”) “Brands need to have a long, hard think on their demographic and who they are selling their clothes to,” Scriver says. “So often I see brands introducing a plus-size line, but when I walk into the store or scroll through their online pages, there are no plus-size mannequins or models on-site to display or signal to me how the clothes would fit on my body. If you want to profit from my fat dollars, then you need to signal to me that you truly want to promote inclusivity and all shapes of all sizes.”
  3. Maryland voter registration to allow for ‘X’ gender identity, Baltimore Sun. Pretty cool news! This is to go along with a new law that starting in October, the MVA will allow Marylanders to use “X” in the gender field on their driver’s licenses and state IDs. Other coverage I read said that the database already had an “unspecified” option, so this change won’t have a fiscal or logistical impact. Love an easy, life-affirming change!
  4. The Why of Cooking, Sarah Miller. This essay is pretty funny. “My mother was always saying she just wanted to be alone with her book but it seemed like whenever this dream looked as if it might actually become a reality she would decide to make a pie.” This passage feels true to me: “People cook—particularly women, but not only women—because they think people are going to notice them, and love them, but no one thinks about who made what they’re eating or how it got on the table. They’re just hungry, and they eat, and they sometimes say thank you, and then they forget about it.” I don’t really feel the same resentment for cooking as this author, but I understand where it comes from and I believe she came to her conclusions honestly.
  5. Jessica Francis Kane’s Rules for Visiting in Real Life, Slate. “Studies show that when life gets too busy or too difficult, the first thing we drop is time with friends.” This author wrote a novel about a woman who decided to travel with the sole purpose of visiting friends, and then she did her own challenge and I really like that concept. “I’m after the kind of visit you get when you are present for all the intangible in-between times—coffee before everyone is up, a chat with one of the children when other grown-ups aren’t around, the sounds of your friend’s house at night—that somehow add up to more than the sum of their parts.” Yes! This is what I’m after in my visit to Amanda in Colorado this week!

July 5, 2019

I was talking to a friend this week about my summer goals: making memories, and joyful movement of the body. So far, so good — been doing a lot of swimmin’ and even a little bit of baseball playin’! What are your summer goals? Or if “goals” feels too productive for the season of lazing, what are your summer ~themes~?

  1. Mr. Rogers’s Simple Set of Rules for Talking to Kids, The Atlantic. This article is a bit old but it resurfaced for me in a newsletter and it’s very sweet. “There were no accidents on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” He took great pains not to mislead or confuse children, and his team of writers joked that his on-air manner of speaking amounted to a distinct language they called “Freddish.” […] Rogers was extraordinarily good at imagining where children’s minds might go. For instance, in a scene in which he had an eye doctor using an ophthalmoscope to peer into his eyes, he made a point of having the doctor clarify that he wasn’t able to see Rogers’s thoughts. Rogers also wrote a song called “You Can Never Go Down the Drain” because he knew that drains were something that, to kids, seemed to exist solely to suck things down.” The examples make this piece precious. “As simple as Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood looked and sounded, every detail in it was the product of a tremendously careful, academically-informed process.”
  2. Here’s What a Good LGBTQ Ally Looks Like, Vox. “As a queer trans woman, my life is often misery. So when I see corporations or big-name artists trying to tap into some sanitized version of my identity that’s only about the fun parts, I feel alienated and that huge parts of my experience are erased,” Diavolo tells Vox. “Being queer is about joy, but that joy is often tempered by a great deal of pain; it is through that bitterness that the sweetness is that much sweeter.” I learned a lot in this article! “June 1969 is an important turning point in LGBTQ history because it fostered a new approach to queer organizing that was “more direct and confrontational,” as Iovannone notes. But focusing too heavily on Stonewall turns it into a historical queer awakening that began in New York City, as opposed to a major event that led to further calls for LGBTQ liberation across the US. In other words, hyperfixating on Stonewall as a coming-out celebration runs the risk of depoliticizing the whole point of the riots in the first place. “When we situate Stonewall as the genesis, the point of origin, of the modern Gay Rights Movement, we exclude the impact of labor movements, the Black Civil Rights Movement, the anti-Vietnam war movement, youth counterculture, and the broader sexual revolution on gay liberation,” Iovannone warns. […] Pride is more than just Stonewall, and it’s certainly more than just a couple of floats. […] Sure, Pride Month should be celebratory, but it should always center the queer community’s resilience, its struggle to survive, and the issues that impact all of its members — and do so all year long.” The main recommendations here to support the LGBTQ community are: offer financial support to individuals and organizations who need it, amplify and listen to the voices of the most marginalized, and show up for votes, town halls, and other political actions that can improve the lives of your brothers and sisters. This was motivating and educational.
  3. Fixing the Internet, Harvard Business Review. I was watching one of the Crash Course videos on navigating digital information and the host said that we wonder whether the internet is a net positive or a net negative for humanity, but that is a question “wrongly put.” Instead we should be asking, “How can I make the internet a more positive force in my life and in the lives of others?” As someone drawn to the critique of the internet’s worst qualities, this question has me thinking. This article from the HBR is in a similar vein. “In order to improve the internet, we must fight against the tendency to ignore its tremendous potential. A few years ago, a Reddit user wondered what would be the hardest thing to explain to someone arriving from 50 years in the past. One user answered: “I possess a device, in my pocket, that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man,” adding: “I use it to look at pictures of cats and get in arguments with strangers.” I love that quote, because it so perfectly captures our inability to put the internet to good use. Surely we can do better.”
  4. How to Do Nothing, Jenny Odell. This book was denser than I expected; I went into it expecting a practical manual for withdrawing from the “attention economy,” the idea that human attention is a resource that content creators and corporate powers want to harvest online. Instead Odell’s book contains a lot of philosophy on the self, utopias, performance art, and bird-watching. It was a challenging read, but there were a lot of gems like this one: “A real withdrawal of attention happens first and foremost in the mind. What is needed, then, is not a “once-and-for-all” type of quitting but ongoing training: the ability not just to withdraw attention, but to invest it somewhere else, to enlarge and proliferate it, to improve its acuity. We need to be able to think across different time scales when the mediascape would have us think in twenty-four-hour (or shorter) cycles, to pause for consideration when clickbait would have us click, to risk unpopularity by searching for context when our Facebook feed is an outpouring of unchecked outrage and scapegoating, to closely study the ways that media and advertising play upon our emotions, to understand the algorithmic versions of ourselves that such forces have learned to manipulate, and to know when we are being guilted, threatened, and gaslighted into reactions that come not from will and reflection but from fear and anxiety. I am less interested in a mass exodus from Facebook and Twitter than I am in a mass movement of attention: what happens when people regain control over their attention and begin to direct it again, together.”
  5. How a Janitor at Frito-Lay Invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, The Hustle. Montañez also developed the philosophy that “it’s not about who you know — it’s about who knows you.” This is a seriously hard-working dude. I have a feeling my dad is going to enjoy reading this story. Everything the man says is quotable, listen to this one: “Recently, a student asked him how he was teaching without a Ph.D. “I do have a Ph.D.,” he responded. “I’ve been poor, hungry and determined.”

Bonus features:

June 28, 2019

I told earlier today David that reading the news, following the primary race, and generally staying “on top” of current events feels like sticking your head into a pool, searching for something on the bottom. It’s blurry, disorienting, and you come up gasping for breath. In that vein, let’s consider this quote. It’s from a group of people who intentionally disengaged from technology to find their priorities, and came back to say, “I think we also found the answer to the universe, which was, quite simply: just spend more time with your friends.” Cling to those you love and keep doing your best.

  1. A Feminist Defense of Bridezillas, NYT. “In her 2007 book “One Perfect Day,” Rebecca Mead argues that the bridezilla taboo is just one component of a profitable industry: Get women as stressed out as possible and they’ll spend any amount of money to get what they want. Even modern couples who shun tradition or would rather save for a down payment on a house must choreograph their alternative ceremonies. Potluck meals have to be assigned, volunteer photographers have to be coordinated, and the “you” in D.I.Y. isn’t just any old “you.” It’s — you guessed it — the bride.” I am behind this op-ed. Good pep talk if being labelled a bridezilla, bossy, or bitchy is making you hesitate to go for what you want.
  2. Claire Saffitz, Host, Gourmet Makes (Interview), Into the Gloss. “The best possible outcome is when the homemade version tastes the way you thought the original tasted when you were a kid. That’s like peak nostalgia. It’s definitely given me a small window into the American snack food industry. More often than not the first ingredients are sugar and corn syrup.” Interview with my cooking celebrity crush Claire Saffitz of Gourmet Makes and other Bon Appetit work! It’s an interview on the Glossier blog so it does hit her skincare/beauty routine (which has become a topic where my eyes glaze over, but you might find it interesting!). And I learned she’s coming out with a baking cookbook in 2020 and that is something I’m excited about!
  3. The research is clear: electing more women changes how government works, Vox. In my opinion, the headline should say it changes how government works for the better. “A woman legislator, on average, passed twice as many bills as a male legislator in one recent session of Congress.” Female legislators also bring more funds back to their districts than male legislators, on average. The article quotes people who theorize that it’s partly because for these women to have made it to high office, they had to be ambitious and very likely overqualified for their positions, to make it past so many obstacles in the advancement of women’s careers. The future is female, what is UP!
  4. The Mindfulness Conspiracy, The Guardian. I don’t endorse this long-winded piece! It takes a valid critique of mindfulness and shoves it into rant territory and I can’t resist picking at it. “Mindfulness advocates, perhaps unwittingly, are providing support for the status quo. Rather than discussing how attention is monetised and manipulated by corporations such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Apple, they locate the crisis in our minds. It is not the nature of the capitalist system that is inherently problematic; rather, it is the failure of individuals to be mindful and resilient in a precarious and uncertain economy. Then they sell us solutions that make us contented, mindful capitalists.”
    1. First of all, research-based mindfulness advocates are not unwitting about the passivity that mindfulness can cultivate in a person. That is absolutely a focus of the literature and one of several cautions given to practitioners.
    2. Furthermore, I would argue that disengaging our attention from those manipulative corporations is an individual act of resistance. I get what he’s (of course it’s a he) trying to say, but I don’t buy it. Sure, like Dove-soap body positivity and self-care in a bottle, mindfulness stripped from its ethics could be used as a productivity aid and nothing more. But concluding that all practitioners of mindfulness are intentionally teaching employees to serenely endure workplace abuse is disingenuous.
    3. I object to his assertion here: “With the retreat to the private sphere, mindfulness becomes a religion of the self. The idea of a public sphere is being eroded, and any trickledown effect of compassion is by chance.” The research shows otherwise; there are mindfulness techniques specifically designed to cultivate compassion. The person who taught me to meditate says that the purpose of the practice is not to calm down but to wake up: to sensation, to your needs and those of others, and to what needs to be done when you leave the mat. And if reducing suffering and dismantling capitalism are part of your ethos, then you will move on to that task, perhaps avoiding burnout in the process.
    4. This author reminds me of those who are almost anti-recovery, who say “Oh exercise creates endorphins? Asking your friends for support helps your depression? Sounds fake but ok, must be nice to not have real problems,” and that is obstinately miserable. I get that he’s trying to critique the fad of mindfulness, especially applied in a corporate or consumer context, but I think he takes it too far. And wouldn’t you know it, this guy wrote this longread (emphasis on long) in advance of his new book, McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality. Pass.
  5. 14 People on How They *Actually* Made New Friends as an Adult, Man Repeller. “My fiancé really struggles to make new guy friends as he feels lame getting in touch with someone on a weekly basis. I keep reminding him to check in with people so they know he’s thinking about them and actually listened to details in the last conversation they had.” Checking in with your friends regularly is such a good thing to do! It feels like 101 stuff but man, when Kaitlyn asks me how my car’s AC is faring (answer: it isn’t) or Emily remembers I had a doctor’s appointment last week and how did that go, I feel seen and loved. If like me you are the center of your own universe and thoughtfulness isn’t effortless, I’ll share my strategy: make a little note on my planner for things like my friends’ parents’ names, reminders to ask how their interview went, etc. I learn from my considerate and friends and I say thank you a lot! There are a lot of good methods and pieces of young-woman-friendship wisdom in this post. For example, this is a cool way of thinking about when an acquaintance turns into a friend: “You’re not really friends with someone until you spend time with them on three occasions outside of the context in which you met them. I have taken this to heart and tried to organize catch-ups at different times of day/environments.”

Bonus features:

June 21, 2019

My dad loves the beach. Whenever I go, I take a short video of the waves coming in and out and text it to him. He always writes back, “Love that sound.” When I was still in floaties, all I wanted was to be beyond the foam, where the waves calm down and you can’t hear sounds on the shore. For most of the 1990s this meant my dad would carry me out. I very clearly remember his wet hair and his squint (because he always took his glasses off to swim), and I remember his “whoo!” when a wave buffeted us, him laughing to reassure me or for the raw joy of the cold water. I remember feeling so sturdy with his arm holding me up that I thought his feet must be planted on the ground somewhere under the water. A good dad can take you where you’re scared to go alone, and help you experience something as big as the Atlantic with simultaneous exhilaration and perfect safety.

My dad’s got a great laugh and a sometimes-restless sense of adventure. He has a soft heart that has miraculously not hardened over the years. When I conjure an image of him in my mind, I smell coffee. I love my philosopher, mathematician, teacher, helper father. Happy (late) Father’s Day! Here’s what I read this week:

  1. Do People Finish Their Goodreads Challenges? The Atlantic. I do reading challenges every year…why? I love to keep track of what I’ve read for a few reasons. One, it prevents me from accidentally getting 10 pages into a book with the vague sense of “hey, have I read this before?” Two, I can keep much better track of which books go in what order in long series. Three, the social aspect is pretty nice — unlike most other social media networks, Goodreads is pretty much a feed of what your friends and follows are reading, not all kinds of info about their lives. It’s just one piece of data, so it feels easier to parse and less like you have to represent yourself as perfect in any way. I used to be shy of putting “embarrassing” or “guilty pleasure” reads on my list, but then I figured that if I’m enjoying it, so why be ashamed. It’s brought me more genuine joy in reading, and that’s a big reason why I complete or exceed my reading challenges every year.
  2. Monster Self-Care, Black Cardigan Edit. This archived edition of Frye’s newsletter takes a look at a Hayao Miyazaki movie but I really liked how she relates it back to a familiar experience. “…That feeling you get when you’re feeling strange and restless, maybe a little blue or maybe anxious, and instead of doing some work or taking a walk or doing anything you find truly enjoyable, you start clicking and clicking and clicking around the internet, hoping it’ll release the magic sugar pellet that will make you feel satisfied and content.” Well hello I recognize that feeling and behavior very well! And later this gem about self-care to overcome that feeling: “Step one: change of scene. Step two: letting yourself be quiet, not trying to cover uncertainty and unhappiness by rushing at people with handfuls of fake gold. Step three: doing whatever your version is of a little knitting and spinning. Step four: staying open to the comforts of friends and tea and connection.”
  3. How to Spot a Fake Viral Story, The Cut. “The benefit to stories like these popping up so frequently is that they become easier to spot. Once you know the formula, it’s hard to read past a tweet or two before checking out, knowing full well what you’re reading is just fiction. And not particularly nuanced fiction at that.” I learned how to spot fake viral stories from my days on Tumblr, because a lot of those stories end with something like “And everybody else on the bus clapped!” Just another list of strategies to smell something fishy on the Internet. Sniff sniff.
  4. 15 Rare Photos of Black Rosie the Riveters, Stuff Mom Never Told You. The quoted history is a little random and hard to read, but this is a great round up of photographs of Black Rosie the Riveters! I love their intent expressions and the flash of red nail polish on hands of the woman in the last photograph.
  5. D-Day Veteran Reunites with French Love after 75 Years, Today. Oh this is such a sweet video. It says at the bottom of the story that they’re planning to meet again soon. I was moved! I love love.

June 14, 2019

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101 Dalmatians behind the scenes: models for Roger, Anita, puppies (more here!)

You made it to Friday! As a reward I have pretty short and light fare, because I’m feeling pretty short and light this week. Hope you are entering the weekend with your face toward the sun.

  1. An Ode To Winston Bishop, The Lovable Weirdo Of “New Girl”, Buzzfeed. “For all of his quirks, Winston was a traditional romantic, and he pursued love with the twin attitudes of being game while wildly unsure of himself; his many callbacks to how that had worked out in the past (in the fifth season he revealed he’d been dumped 47 times, once while he’d been in Santa’s lap) helped build a fuller picture of who he was as a man.” This reminded me how good a character Winston is on New Girl!
  2. How to Draw a Horse, The New Yorker. This is a funny and beautiful short illustrated love story. I love the last three panels, so bittersweet. There’s no way to quote from this! Just read it, and go on the journey with me.
  3. Never forget that the first-ever Pride was a riot against police brutality, The Tempest. 2019 is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, and this short article gives us a brief history of that event, which sparked the gay rights movement in the United States. This article touches on past triumphs but highlights the need for more protections almost everywhere in America (housing, health, physical and legal safety). For example, “transgender people of color face the highest rates of violent [hate] crime,” which is unacceptable. This piece reminds me that the reason to celebrate Pride is because this community has to have incredible resilience, solidarity, and courage in a dangerous world. To gather together in waves of color and yes, glitter, is a fierce demonstration of survival and joy. Love it.
  4. What Romance Really Means After 10 Years of Marriage, The Cut. Loving the tone of this piece by the good ole Heather Havrilesky. She gets frank in this essay in ways that make me a little uncomfortable, but she grabs it all back together at the end in an oddball, excellent wedding toast. “Our dumb culture tricks us into believing that romance is the suspense of not knowing whether someone loves you or not yet, the suspense of wanting to have sex but not being able to yet, the suspense of wanting all problems and puzzles to be solved by one person, without knowing if they have any time or affinity for your particular puzzles yet. We think romance is a mystery in which you add up clues that you will be loved. Romance must be carefully staged and art-directed, so everyone looks better than they usually do and seems sexier and better than they actually are, so the suspense can remain intact. You are not better than you are, though, and neither is your partner. That’s romance. Laughing at how beaten-down you sometimes are, in your tireless quest to survive, is romance. It’s sexy to feel less than totally sexy and still feel like you’re sexy to one person, no matter what.”
  5. Which Movie Chef Makes the Best Food?, Grub Street. I really enjoyed Always Be My Maybe, and I got a lot of ideas of other chef/cooking films to watch from this list! Also, I’m hungry.

Bonus features: