Things I’m Verbing: Flora, fallout and floating birds

Did you hear the one about the trans reporter who lost her job because of pressure from activists?

I keep following the Chicago Dyke March story because I can’t look away. There is so much evidence I still want to see, and yet so much hatefulness keeps erupting from actors and observers both. In the past week or so, the official CDM Twitter account has reveled in an antisemitic slur it claims it didn’t realize was quite that bad, while the trans Jewish woman who broke the story appears to have been relieved of her reporting duties after harassment from CDM supporters. I want to share a piece by the always-worthwhile David Shraub: “Not Knowing ‘Zio’ Is a Slur Is an Indictment, Not a Defense.”

[T]he implication of their apologia is that not that they are free from racism — far from it. It’s that they grew up in an environment where racism was so normalized that they didn’t even know how to recognize it. Such a situation demands some very hard work of unlearning, of radically questioning one’s own presuppositions and acknowledging that one needs to acquire substantial new information before one can feel confident in one’s ability to relate to the other group in an ethical manner.

[…] I’ve long thought that the heart of oppression as a discursive practice is a perceived entitlement to talk about a group without knowing about the group. The Chicago Dyke March pleads ignorance about Jews and antisemitism, but that ignorance in no way dissipates their belief that they are absolutely entitled to talk about Jews and Jewish institutions however they want and be treated as credible and legitimate entrants to the discussion.

I also really liked this point by Emma Needleman:

As someone who went from anti-Zionist to becoming a Zionist, a big part of what changed me was realizing that the Jewish communities that tended to be the most Zionistic were also the most precarious: working class, less “rooted” in their home countries (former USSR, Latin America, Middle East/North Africa), recent immigrant status, facing political turmoil or rising ant-semitism.

For a little more on that, see the 49-minute documentary The Forgotten Refugees for first-person accounts from some of the nearly 1 million Mizrahi Jews forced from ancient communities in MENA countries after World War II and who now make up more than 50 percent of the Israeli populace. Especially watch this if you believe that Zionism is no more than a manifestation of colonialist white supremacy. I hope it complicates your worldview no matter how you’re coming to it.

Anyway, that’s all still terrible. How’s the rest of the world?

  • For a truly staggering look at how the past never really leaves us, read Lacy Johnson’s monumental investigative piece for Guernica, “The Fallout.” In the idyllic suburbs of St. Louis, no one knew that the reason so many were getting sick was intimately tied to, of all things, the Manhattan Project.
  • For a certain kind of person, it sounds great, doesn’t it? Work remotely from Bali (or wherever!), without interrupting your communal and administrative needs. Jessa Crispin’s “The Unsettled,” for the Outline, examines a utopian vision for globe-trotting future-of-work winners, which, naturally, isn’t so great for the ~exotic getaways that host them.
  • It’s not that I love bread so much that I always need to have it, but baking sourdough bread from starter is proving a fascinating challenge for me (and I definitely have not yet mastered it). Marcus Woo, writing for NPR, looks into the microbiomes of delicious carbs, as scientists try to figure out what makes your local loaf taste so particular. Pair (tragically!) with this Bloomberg piece about the possible imminent extinction of Camembert cheese.
  • Please read Frances Lee’s “Excommunicate Me From the Church of Social Justice.” Think also about Yair Rosenberg’s excellent new term, “cultural McCarthyism.”
  • There’s a gold-plated phonograph record hurtling through space, carrying with it audio demonstrations of our global humanity. One sound on the record is a laugh — but whose? The answer will delight you, and hopefully remind us all that the world can still be good.

Stay brave, friends.

Things I’m Verbing: Celebrity skin, the right-wing PC and magical thinking

A few years ago, when it seemed like my mother’s second surgery and chemo regimen had given her a clean bill of health, I bought myself a ukulele. I had never played a string instrument before, being strictly a piano/oboe/bassoon girl growing up (yeah, I know), but my reasoning was that a ukulele can make literally anything sound happy, including Hamlet meditating on suicide and murder. I can’t pretend that in the time since, I’ve become some sort of Jake Shimabukuro, but music is an act which adds something to the world, and as draining as the past year and a half has been and as horrible as it seems like it’s going to get, I’ll take any nourishing thing I can get.

All of this is to say that while I’m still a little shaky on the folky version of “The Star-Spangled Man With a Plan,” this week I managed the Nouvelle Vague cover of “The Killing Moon,” and that made me forget all this nonsense — that is, the Cold War-throwback news that Russia may have swung the election for Trump — for at least 20 minutes.

  • So, any time Anne Helen Petersen writes about celebrity, you ought to sit up and listen. “The Key to Trump Is Reading Him Like a Celebrity” is excellent, excellent work for BuzzFeed. Also unmissable on that site, from author Jesmyn Ward: “This Was the Year America Finally Saw the South.” Absolutely not the “pity the white working class” piece you might think it is; much more essential. (Though of that genre, though not really, Susan Faludi’s “Trumped and Abandoned” for the Baffler knocks it out of the park.)
  • As if they weren’t already, language and rhetoric are going to be more important than ever going forward. Read the libertarian Cato Institute’s Alex Nowrasteh on patriotic correctness, the right’s stifling counterpart to that favorite bogeyman, political correctness. See also, from Tina Dupuy, “So We Elected an Autocrat: What to Do Now.” (One hint: Don’t adopt language like “MSM” or “mainstream media.” Do you flinch every time you see liberals use “flip-flop” as a verb? I do.) See also: the Teen Vogue broadside against Trump’s gaslighting that everyone is rightly talking about.
  • There’s magical thinking (the Electoral College and then the Republican-dominated House of Representatives are going to save us) and then there’s “Trump and the GOP won’t get rid of Obamacare; it’s working too well for us.” Heartbreaking.
  • What, you thought I wouldn’t post any Jewish stuff? Come on, on a scale of 1 to unmissable, “My Name Is Loolwa Khazzoom and I Won’t Change That to Come Off Less Middle Eastern” is off the charts. Given last week’s “are Jews white?” hubbub, if you have time, read Richard Jeffrey Newman’s “The Lines That Antisemitism and Racism Draw: Reflections on White Jewish Intersectionality” (multipage; one page). It was originally commissioned for a series of essays on #BlackArtMatters; you might think the two are unrelated, but read the piece. It will open up some things for you.
  • I started this on ukuleles and things that are joyful, didn’t I? Let’s end on some uplifting notes. For instance, someone found an entire feathered dinosaur tail inside a chunk of amber, and the photos are just staggering. See also:

(How are you real?!!)

Stay brave, friends.

Things I’m Verbing: TV hates women, women hate the monoculture and the monoculture hates jobs

This has been a particularly crummy week for great women. Obviously I’m annoyed as all get-out that ABC canceled Agent Carter (even as Captain America: Civil War nears $300 million in domestic gross alone). It is certainly worth considering the show’s flaws even aside from ratings — this Medium post articulates a lot of what it was up against from the inside, and why the second season stumbled where the first season seemed so promising. I don’t agree with all of it, but I can’t deny a lot of it.

That said, I’m convinced more than ever of the show’s importance, especially when CBS passed on a Sarah Shahi-led series for being “too female,” when Woody Allen still commands respect, when Donald Trump brushes off years of humiliating women, when we’ll never get to see Gina Torres as Macbeth, when Iron Man 3 originally had a female villain but got rewrites because it literally wouldn’t sell toys, when instead we get… the MacGyver reboot nobody ever asked for. Per Bustle‘s Sabienna Bowman:

If female leads and women-led shows with passionate fanbases are being disregarded by network TV, then the message begins to feel like women should take their “too female” tastes somewhere they might matter — or just not expect TV to represent them whatsoever.

Well. There’s a Change.org petition to bring Agent Carter to Netflix, where I think it would be a much better fit alongside Jessica Jones, now Marvel’s only female-helmed brand. The petition has more than 75,000 signatories from around the world. While we’re waiting for that to pan out…

Ultimately, context aside, I think all these links come down to one sentiment, perfectly and profanely (as usually) expressed by Star Wars: Aftermath author Chuck Wendig:

Things I’m Verbing: Former Aleppos, Chicagoland Souvenirs and the Many Queens of Journalism

Busy few weeks over here! I’m delighted to share a personal essay I wrote for CityLab that I’m very proud of. “A Pilgrim in Chicagoland” is about running away from the things you love most and figuring out how not to leave what you need behind. It’s also about chintzy Chicago-branded souvenirs — and redemptive ukuleles.

I’ve also got a piece in Mental Floss about Emperor Norton, a 19th-century San Francisco tycoon who proclaimed himself sovereign over the United States and Mexico, and everyone happily went along with it. I first learned about Emperor Norton from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, and I’m still thrilled that he was really real.

  • At The Toast, Soraya Chemaly shares a gorgeous, unflinching portrait of her grandmother, “Listening to Old Women.” It’s a story that starts in the Ottoman Empire, swings through Haiti and persists in her granddaughter’s unanswered questions. Wonderful work.
  • At Guernica, Maurice Chammah tries to retrace the Aleppo his father left behind. “My Father’s Aleppo” takes on the guilt of immigration (or fleeing the country — it depends) and returning to those you left behind. Chammah’s father was also a Syrian Jew, which raises questions about community and exile the writer does and doesn’t expect.
  • For The Cut, Kim Brooks asks if motherhood and a creative life are intrinsically inimical to each other. I’m still thinking hard about “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mom,” especially in contrast to Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner’s recent advice-and-reassurance piece for Fast Company. Starkly different accounts.
  • That said, The Cut also published a not even comprehensive list of amazing work in journalism accomplished by women since 1960. Close your eyes and click a link — you’re bound to be staggered.
  • Finally, even though I began piano lessons at 7 and have loved music all my life, I’ve never understood or been interested in music theory. In an excellent realization of Surprisingly Awesome‘s mission to strip away the veneer of boringness from a range of topics, “The Circle of Fifths” is no longer a mystery to me. In fact, it’s some pretty amazing science and culture. Consider me convinced.