Things I’m Verbing: Clowns, witches and the trapdoor to Hell

You might say to yourself, “Esther, it’s Monday. Don’t your link roundups come out on Tuesdays and Fridays?” To that I say, “There is no way I’m missing out on sharing Halloween stories before the clock hits midnight and it’s November.” FOR INSTANCE: I have written a story for Refinery29 (my first!) on clowns and the cultural and psychological reasons behind why they freak us all out. It was a delight to do, and actual clown expert Ben Radford lights up my day just by existing and being really cool.

…I actually don’t have much more Halloween content, although The Establishment has been posting some great stuff on witches (plus Pacific Standard, plus A.V. Club, plus every single outlet writing up the greatness that is The Craft). Before we dive into the horrorshow that is the final week before we elect someone president at last, let’s savor this comic:

  • Today in “Wait, that guy was still alive?”, Jack Chick of the Chick Tracts died. Comics Alliance writes about his surprising influence on indie comix, while The New Republic pretty aptly compares him to Nazi documentarian Leni Riefenstahl without breaking Godwin’s Law. The Nib memorializes Chick in pretty much the best way imaginable.
  • This American Life is always kind of a big ask for me, listening-wise. An hour is a lot to commit to, and they don’t always land it. But “Will I Know Anyone at This Party?” doesn’t fall prey to hipster preciousness — instead, it’s a thoughtful look at the Republicans aghast at the nativism and racism that’s infected the party they love. The episode’s main focus is the white community’s response to Somali refugees settling in St. Cloud, Minnesota — essentially a history of “Muslim bans” and how that started.
  • Thank goodness Donald Trump pissed off The Washington Post. While it’s staggering that this is still possible, David Farenthold, who’s been owning the Trump charity beat, has published the biggest doozy yet. It starts with Trump blithely stealing honors from a major donor to a nursery school for children with HIV/AIDS and only goes downhill from there.
  • Back to the other gut-churning pillar of this campaign, Liz Meriwether, writing for The Cut, has a blistering, all-too-familiar essay about how women talk about sexual harassment and assault, and how it’s surprising the men around them.
  • It’s been a while since we talked about Marvel movies, right? Worry no more: Dr. Strange comes out in the U.S. this Friday, and it’s been taking a beating in activist circles for months going on years, thanks to its truly unfortunate baked-in Orientalism. The good news, according to BuzzFeed, is that the movie looks amazing and isn’t as joyless as the previews would have us believe. The bad news: We were right about the Orientalism.

Side note: I write personal essays at my blog Screwball Heroine, and this weekend I published “Baby’s first burlesque show,” about fear, monsters and baring it all. (A friend sold it on Twitter as “depression, creativity and nipple tassels”; “Whatever helps grab the eye,” he said.) I’m still figuring out what kind of essayist I want to be, particularly given the first-person industrial complex, but I think this one’s worth it. For all my fellow writers and anyone who’s just interested, the New York Times wrote up a roadmap for great personal essays their way.

Things I’m Verbing: Not sitting still, not using his own money and not honoring bad men

Usually viral Kickstarter campaigns leave me indifferent at best, but the latest “it doesn’t exist yet, but it can and it will, so get in early!” craze has sucked me in. I’m not even a particularly fidgety person, but the Fidget Cube looks freaking great. One of my favorite parts is how the campaign appeals to research about why fidgeting is a legitimate human need. Nineteen dollars (or $25, once the Fidget Cube exists in the wild) seems a little steep, but honestly… gosh darn it, it’s just so cute and appealing, right?

  • Not at all gadgets are as unifying, of course. Apple confirmed last week that the next iPhone won’t have the headphone jack we’ve been using for 50 years or so. Yahoo Finance and The Verge are decidedly grumpy about it for a range of reasons, particularly regarding the ongoing battle over digital rights management — in this case, literally who gets to control what you listen to. BuzzFeed bravely tells us that we’re all freaking out over nothing, whatever, it’s actually a pretty good experience as a piece of technology. Frankly, there’s a bigger worry that women in particular have:

  • Also lost in the eternal chum of American election-year reporting, you definitely can’t miss the Washington Post’s look into how Donald Trump hasn’t spent any of his own money on the Trump Foundation since 2008. I mean, you’d have to be a sucker to think you have to give charitably yourself to take credit for it. Just get donors to give to you! (Surprised, in a not-surprised kind of way? This isn’t at all out of line with his licensing schemes for developments.)
  • Katy Waldman, writing for Slate, is a freaking gift. Her beautiful, considered review of Nadja Spiegelman’s multigenerational mother-daughter memoir I’m Supposed to Protect You From All This is both a pleasure to read in itself and a wonderful vehicle for generating interest in the book. Definitely pair with Alexandra Petri’s hilarious “An Easy Guide to Writing the Great American Novel.” Are you out there, Guy in Your MFA?
  • Even though it’s been nearly two years since I left Chicago, city of my heart and soul, I can’t bring myself to unsubscribe from all the local news Twitters. And of course, because Chicago, it was big news that Greektown’s iconic Parthenon restaurant was closing — as well it should be: this is the place that invented saganaki, the famous flaming cheese appetizer that’s one of the best parts of going to Greek restaurants, even if you’re not the one ordering. “Opa! In Praise of Flaming Saganaki” is a nice tribute from Chicago Magazine. Talk about an eternal legacy.
  • Which leads nicely into a feel-good item from my actual hometown: Athens, Ohio, home of Ohio University (see previous post). Looks like not only is the Scripps School of Journalism removing alum Roger Ailes’ name from the WOUB newsroom, it’s returning several hundred thousand dollars in donations and trying to distance itself from a scholarship he set up. “I really don’t know how I would have taught in that space another day,” said one j-school professor at the announcement. Finally — at least one happy ending in 2016.

Saganaki/general representation of the world and the U.S. presidential election (despite not taking place in a dumpster) photo by Adam Minter; you might also check out this photo by Flickr user lhongchou, just for the amusement factor.

Things I’m Verbing: Blindfolds, blackwork and white noise

Yup, still the Cloisters. That walk is too nice not show off from every possible angle. Doesn’t this make you feel peaceful? And to think, there’s a highway, like, a hundred feet below this. (I don’t know if it’s 100 feet. For an entry about fact-checking woes, I’m going to let this one slide.)

You can never turn off being a copy editor or a fact-checker. Even when you’re trying to unwind, it ruins everything. Case in point: Last night I was finishing up a novella by a writer I both respect like hell as an artist and can never decide how much I actually enjoy her work.

It’s a fairy tale set in the Jazz Age, and it relies heavily on ’20s-era slang throughout. Which was a freaking delight, except early on, the writer describes characters wearing victory rolls — a signature hairstyle of World War II, meant to imitate the swoops of fighter pilots. (I can’t find evidence that they weren’t in use before the 1940s, but certainly to use imagery so associated with a very different decade is careless, if not confounding as a deliberate artistic choice, in this context.)

Anyway. I also got mad at this writer in another book for claiming a character alive in the 17th century knew how to speak Akkadian, a dead language not fully deciphered until the mid-1800s. The things we discover are deal-breakers.

  • It’s not actually my intention to closely repeat topics or outlets, but two great articles about Tori Amos found their way to me this week, so I’m not going to ignore that. The first is an examination of Boys for Pele on its 20th anniversary; it’s not only my favorite of her works, but one of my favorite albums of all time. The other is a great interview with Interview magazine about her musicalThe Light Princess. Pair with Sady Doyle’s wonderful article for BuzzFeed last year “Where Would Music Be Without Tori Amos?”
  • Aeon also does video, and you need to watch this short animation it made to accompany narration by Radiolab‘s Robert Krulwich, about why blindfolded people can’t walk in straight lines. It’s an intriguingly simple question, and stunningly rendered.
  • This isn’t serious business, I just like tattoo blogs, despite not having any. Tattoodo is hitting the spot for image-based listicles for me right now. This post on blackwork is a highlight.
  • I’ve found that learning about improv has helped me figure out so many different kinds of expression and communication, including journalism (let characters drive the story, not plot!), so I’m super excited to check out Long Form Improvisation and American Comedy: The Harold by Matt Fotis.
  • It’s the final third of National Novel Writing Month, as well as the true wind-up to The Holidays, which may mean you need the perfect white noise to block out… literally everything about the world. I live next to some very noisy neighbors, and I have a lot I need to get done at home. For those of us who can’t seem to accomplish work at coffee shops (and aren’t even into that kind of noise anyway), I present the best 10-hour YouTube video of them all: crackling fireplace. You can probably accomplish literally anything that requires focus and relaxation with this on. There are so many other white noise generators out there, but I haven’t found one that beats this.