I promised everyone I’d dance in the streets if Chicago made it to 50 whole degrees, and holy cats, on Monday we hit 56. So, off I went with my camera in just a sweatshirt and tennis shoes, although rain boots probably would have been a better plan, considering that all our snow and ice is now melting into gigantic pools of standing water, much of which is congregating on sidewalks and at street crossings.
Of course, it’s supposed to dump more snow on us again this week, which makes Chicago Magazine‘s musings about whether the City That Works is too cold to compete with the sunny South particularly apropos. But I assume you’re not here for me to endlessly talk about the weather. (In my hometown, you didn’t start conversations with remarks on the weather, you filled dead air with a comment on the height of the Hocking River.) I could ramble about treadmill desks or Amtrak’s actually sort of scummy terms and conditions for their writing residency, but let’s get to the good stuff, shall we?
Well, for one thing, I ragged on Guy Gavriel Kay a little at Oy!Chicago, although I have worse in store for him once I actually finish The Lions of Al-Rassan. This post is about my hopes for how Jewish characters can and will be portrayed in fiction, beyond stereotypes and exhausting victim tropes.
Relatedly, a friend linked to this free ebook, Islam for Journalists, which bills itself as a primer on covering Muslim communities in America. Its pedigree looks good: it comes out of the University of Missouri’s highly respected journalism program and it’s edited by former Middle East correspondents from CBS and the Chicago Tribune.
H. G. Wells was called “The Man Who Invented Tomorrow,” and PBS Digital Studios has put together a frankly stunning short film celebrating his words and his visions of humanity and of what it means to explore. For the homebody in you, perhaps you’d rather hear about Bertie the owl, who lives in a farmhouse in Northumberland and helps with making tea, among other things. It’s certainly more pleasant than Chicago improviser Jason Chin’s I Hate Clark Street, which documents the frat-happy hellhole that is Wrigleyville on days that end in y.
If the past is another country, then seeing it in color is practically teleportation, right? These 29 colorized photos from the 19th and 20th centuries are all done by hobbyists, as far as I can tell, which means that some are more realistic than others — but I bet your breath will be taken away at least once. I’ve seen this sort of post go around before, but some of these images were new to me, and wonderful.
Hard to imagine it in some ways, but this year marks the centenary of the Great War. Poppies Pressed is one of many projects memorializing and studying WWI in the digital age. In similar news, this week NPR’s All Things Considered is contemplating a counterfactual WWI and what that would mean for us today.
Going back to some of the world’s oldest recorded wars, poet Alice Oswald has published Memorial: A Version of Homer’s Odyssey, which focuses — wisely, subversively and cuttingly as the original — on the deaths, the little biographies of all the soldiers and what they lost. The Rumpus compares her work to Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial, which I think is apt.
The next two links give me pause to share in tandem without some explanation, because they both became widely shared stories within a few days of each other, and they both deal with fathers who feel unable to reach their sons. By pairing these, I don’t want to try and make a statement of any sort, especially since one addresses and the other speculates about autism and those who are affected by it. I have learned a lot from listening to the autism community speak for itself; both these stories make me wonder what we would learn if the subjects could communicate in a way that people would hear the way readers hear these journalists.
Reaching My Autistic Son Through Disney is beautifully written and beautifully told, about how one family learned to create channels of communication through Disney movies. I’m not on the spectrum, but I can say that The Lion King was the first film I saw five times in theaters, and that I spent an entire year living and breathing that story, and in part because of that, this story reached out to me through the screen in a really impressive, personal way.
The Reckoning is an attempt by the father of the Sandy Hook shooter, Adam Lanza, to set the record straight in whatever way he can about his son. It’s terrifying, and hideously, profoundly sad. It includes passages like this:
Scientists are sequencing Adam’s DNA to see if they can find anomalies that might explain what was broken in him. And yet, if someone has committed heinous crimes and is then found to have bad genes or a neurological abnormality, should we presume that biology compelled him? It’s a circular argument that conflates what describes a phenomenon and what causes it.
The most memorable thing, to me, comes from the ending: Peter declared that he wished Adam had never been born, that there could be no remembering who he was outside of who he became. This is a sentiment that many of us, I think, struggle with in general when we think about evil, whatever we believe that means. There’s also the horror of hindsight, of asking yourself what you could have done differently. This interview is more complex than the clickbait headlines on other news sites are selling. The gulf between this story and Ron Suskind’s, above, is worth a good deal of contemplation too.
I’d like to end on a happier note. I took up the ukulele in 2011 because an instrument that could make Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy upbeat and sweet-sounding was something that I wanted in my life. I’ve tried a lot of methods for teaching myself how to play, and to a certain extent, that’s worked, but I’ve never really managed to impose any discipline or structure on my process.
Enter Dan O’Sullivan and his three-part, 70-minute ukulele micro-course. Apparently access to his videos is a limited time affair (possibly ending within the week), which is a shame, since they’re incredibly helpful — but it’s excellent marketing for his “Out-of-Copyright, Old-Time Ukulele Sheet-Music Song-of-the-Week Club,” which you can join for $4.99 a month. For my own part, Danno’s suggestions for organizing how I practice has made me willing to practice more, which is how I will finally justify graduating from my beginner’s uke to something really stunning.
Happy Tuesday, all. If you need to stay warm, dry and/or happy, here’s to your success. ♥