October 16, 2020

I’m so tired of writing about 2020. I don’t want to anymore. I have skipped writing the last two weeks, and I just realized I’m feeling burned out on this year. I’ve been reading, but not as many articles I can link you to in full text. I’ve been reading a lot of books that let me escape this current moment, and if you will join me, I’ll share them with you. I heard someone say “Done is better than perfect,” and that is what is getting me to the end of this Friday5 post.

  1. Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Ahhh this book is wild. It reminds me of Turn of the Screw and The Yellow Wallpaper, but written with modern energy and a willingness to go darker than either of those tales did. I loved the main character, Noemi, as a horror heroine, who is willing to peer deeper into the darkness to save those she loves, to hold on tight and not let go. It’s also cool to read a (in my reading experience) traditionally white genre, the Gothic novel, with both a writer and protagonist of color at the helm. Moreno-Garcia hones right in on the eugenics and scientific racism of the 1950s, and connects the internal decay of the house with the host’s racism, misogyny and entitlement. It also reminds me of Bluebeard, and Tam Lin, and all the good stories about refusing to be the next in a long line of women consumed for immortality or men’s desire. Wow, it’s such a good book and I highly recommend it as a perfect ghost story for this October.
  2. The Adventure Zone: Petals to the Metal, Clint McElroy. This is a graphic novel, third in a series that novelizes the famously popular Adventure Zone D&D podcast, and in my opinion the best in the series so far. Here’s a quote from it that actually did make me tear up: “Do you know why our organization is called the Bureau of Balance, Merle? It’s because the world’s design, if such a thing exists, is one of masterful equilibrium. Fore every evil impulse drawn from a tempted heart, there is a heroic deed, spurred on by unimaginable bravery. From where we’re sitting, it’s hard to keep them both in our sights. But that balance is there, keeping the world stitched together. For every wrongdoing, there is a right. For each injustice, an act of kindness. For every wound, a remedy.”
  3. Solutions and Other Problems, Allie Brosh. Brosh’s long-awaited second collection of comics (her first, Hyperbole and a Half, is one of my favorite representations of the journey in and out of major depression). This one reveals more from her childhood and family life, and like any good graphic memoir, it’s hard to sum up. But it was worth the wait, and I recommend it to you.
  4. Not Like the Movies, Kerry Winfrey. This is a sweet contemporary romance followup to Waiting for Tom Hanks, which was pretty cute! I actually think the second one is better — it follows Chloe, a girl taking care of her aging father and working at a coffee shop where she and her boss have become the inspiration for a major romantic comedy film. As many romance novels do, the story is as much about the main character’s internal growth as it is about falling in love. I really related to Chloe’s struggle; she is a “helper” to everyone around her, and even though she feels tremendously overwhelmed and alone, she’s afraid to ask for the help she gives out so generously. This book made me cry several times, and is definitely more melancholy than other romcoms, but with a satisfying end and some major chemistry between the leads.
  5. Clockwork Boys, T. Kingfisher. If someone made a novelization of their D&D campaign, I imagine it would read like this book. It’s a duology, and I haven’t read the second book yet, but boy did I love the first. Total escapism into a world where four flawed protags face a doomed mission into enemy lands (in exchange for criminal pardons). We’ve got a fierce, tiny con artist, a wicked, abrasive assassin, and a paladin with a few demon-possession issues. Oh, and a scholar-guide, I’m not as attached to him yet. I like the world, and I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by T. Kingfisher. I have trouble describing fantasy novels, especially to folks who don’t read them, but this one is just pure fun.

September 25, 2020

Hi! Did you know the deadline to register to vote in MD is October 13? You can also check your voter registration status online. 

  1. How do I stop being lazy?, Here’s the Thing. “Your biggest problem is your biggest problem. That does not make it the world’s biggest problem. Your laziness is not on par with climate change, of course, BUT THAT DOESN’T MAKE IT NOT A BIG PROBLEM FOR YOU! You are allowed to have problems even if you have privilege. The two are not mutually exclusive. I think in many ways you have avoiding processing some of this because you feel guilty for feeling bad. But beating yourself up for being frustrated or feeling stuck is not going to make you unstuck. That’s like punching yourself in the face for having gotten a flat tire.” I really like this advice, it’s compassionate and gives the letter writer a good place to start (ask for help, be kind to yourself, and start small).
  2. The Photographer Peeking at Your Phone, NYT. Hmmm…this is a very weird project, and probably embarrassing if your stuff was in there. But boy do I love to snoop on other people’s conversations. “Voyeuristic isn’t the same as harmful,” Mermelstein told me, when I asked him about the ethics of capturing people’s private thoughts without their knowledge or consent. “We’re all out there in the public domain, so part of everything we do engages with voyeurism. As a street photographer, I’ve been practicing this for a long time, and I trust that what I do isn’t hurting anyone.” What do you think about that idea? I’m chewing my lip over it.
  3. Surfaces vs Airborne: What We Know Now About Covid-19 Transmission, Medium. “One reason is that a virus inside a freshly exhaled droplet is more likely to be alive and infectious than a virus that’s been sitting on a doorknob for several hours. The other reason is that, in close range, breathing in the air that someone else just breathed out is going to expose you to a higher quantity of virus particles — called the inoculum — than after the droplets disperse and fall to the ground. […]  And even if some viral particles do get through, the viral dose will still be much smaller, so the person will be less likely to get seriously ill.” A lot of this is stuff we know, but it made me feel better about a) wearing masks in public and b) seeing friends in outdoor spaces.
  4. I Learned to Love Reading Again While Quarantined (And So Can You, with These Eight Easy Steps!), The Niche. This is a great post with good advice — be bored, think of it as a treat, read what you ACTUALLY want to read, not what you think you should be reading. I like their tip here, to have the next book lined up. That motivates you to finish the one you’re reading, to get to the next one! I would also recommend trying several different types of book, because maybe you don’t like modern literary fiction (personally I find it grim), but graphic novels are your jam, or Instagram-style poetry, or comedian memoirs. There’s a librarian saying (it’s actually a law of library science, lol and barf) that is “Every reader, their book,” meaning there’s a book out there for you and the library is obligated to get you access to it. 
  5. We’re Closer Than We Realize, Reasons to Be Cheerful. “We find hope in stories of the Jewish and Arab women in Israel driving hundreds of Bedouin women from their remote villages to polling stations to protect their right to vote. We find it in the youth soccer program in Lewiston, Maine, where Somali refugees play side by side with their American teammates to set an example for the rest of their community. We find it in the NFL’s reversal of its position on players taking a knee during the national anthem, and the league’s eventual support for the Black Lives Matter movement. We also find hope in the fact that BLM is widely embraced by Americans: two-thirds of U.S. adults support the movement, including majorities of white (60%), Hispanic (77%), and Asian (75%) Americans. The growing diversity within the movement is illustrative and informative.” This is an encouraging piece. “We can either turn on each other, or toward each other.”

Donation Station:

  • League of Women Voters – I’m very concerned about people being confused or kept from being able to vote this year, so I’m going to focus on a few voting rights organizations for a bit. The League of Women Voters creates the excellent Vote411 voter guide, which gives you an overview of who’s on your ballot and what they stand for. Join me in kicking $5 their way this week!

Bonus features:

September 18, 2020

TGIF. Thank God It’s Fall.

  1. The Lawmakers Fighting to Make Hair Discrimination Illegal, Glamour. “When we talk about systemic racism, we must acknowledge the role of hair discrimination in oppressing Black and brown people in our classrooms, conference rooms, and beyond,” she says. “Hair discrimination is a very real phenomenon that contributes to the criminalization of communities of color and perpetuates the school-to-confinement pathway, especially for girls and young women.” This is legislation I’ve been following for a little bit, and although this article says that Maryland has passed this legislation, the truth is that only Montgomery County has so far. I’d like to see it be a state-wide policy, and if you agree, you should write your reps about it!
  2. A Brief History of the Mason Jar, Smithsonian. I love canning and I have so much childhood nostalgia for this humble, versatile jar.
  3. Welcome the Covid Influencer, Anne Helen Petersen’s newsletter. “With that said, it’s ridiculous to the point of sad hilarity that athletes can’t get compensated for their brand promotion (or for the literal millions of dollars they bring into the school), but influencers like Brooklyn and Bailey can. The difference, of course, is that universities have kept up the farce that their student athletes are just, I dunno, playing for the fun of it, not actually acting as brand ambassadors. But straight up influencers like Brooklyn and Bailey make any such pretense impossible. And as Derek Jenkins put it on Twitter, “How many racialized students have been pressured onto the cover of their university’s student catalog without the added incentive of a “brand partnership”?”
  4. Comedy Wildlife Photo Finalists Are Every Bit as Glorious as You’d Expect, Mashable. I love contest this every year. I love the otters, the bears, and the giraffes!
  5. Best Frozen Pizza, Kitchn. What’s your favorite frozen pizza? This link has some good suggestions I’m going to try, but lately Davy and I have been big into this kooky guy’s frozen pies: Wild Mike’s Ultimate Pizza.

Donation Station:

Great Cycle Challenge USA – Tim Hampton – My dad is doing a fundraiser for Children’s Cancer Research Fund, and he’s already biked like 85 miles! Join me in donating $5 this week.

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: