One of my favorite morning rituals is listening to The Writer’s Almanac. When I’m working in an office, it’s the first podcast I listen to on my commute, the shortest leg between my apartment and my train station. These days it’s an over-the-tea pleasure, and Garrison Keillor has just been killing it on poem selection this month so far. I just wanted to share/save a few of my favorite pieces — I used to think I never liked poetry, despite having an English professor for a dad, but it just turns out I have not yet learned patience for reading poetry. Listening to it, however, is a joy, and Keillor, whose “News From Lake Wobegon” segment has been a constant pleasure throughout my life, is the perfect voice for it.
I’m going to be quoting my favorite bits from each poem, which is sometimes the end, so… spoiler warning? Each of these links comes with a recording embedded in it, but I’d recommend subscribing to the podcast wherever it is you subscribe to such things. It really is a nice way to start your day, if you’re a literary nerd like me. Continue reading “Here’s a poem for today by…”→
Several weeks ago, a friend at work talked me into a truly bonkers journalism experience that I’m finally undertaking this week: Twenty-four straight hours of Marvel Cinematic Universe films, all 11 screened in order in a theater, culminating in Avengers: Age of Ultron. That’s Wednesday and Thursday, basically, and I’ll probably be pretty loopy through the weekend, if I’m honest.
At heart, though, I am someone who loves committing to big endeavors hard, and I’m really looking forward to enjoying everyone who shows up to do the same. Given all this, I thought I’d clear out some of the great articles I’ve been hoarding in the depths of my One Tab bookmark/tab keeper. We all need some good reading to get us through things.
The Road From Danzig is a vivid look at Gunter Grass and his complicated biography. I have both an unread and an unwatched copy of The Tin Drum somewhere on my shelves, and I’ve always meant to fix that. This should push me.
Among the Reindeer is personally interesting to me. Apparently, thanks to one of those DNA ancestry tests, we know on my father’s side that I’m descended from people who lived north of the Arctic Circle. This writer gets similar results, and goes to vastly greater lengths to understand them.
Mark Watches Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the perfect maraschino cherry on top of this post. Winter Soldier is far and away both the best MCU movie (fight me) and my favorite. Mark Oshiro’s unspoiled reaction and unfiltered feelingsplosion sums up so much of what it is to love and engage with these films.
The deep breath before the deep dive. Catch you on the flip side, cats and kittens!
Tonight is exciting! Tonight I get to see Aziz Ansari at the Chicago Theater, a comedian I have never seen live in an iconic venue I’ve never manage to hit up. In celebration of that, and of the brilliant, funny and wonderful Analicia, my hairstylist who knows how to make curly hair all that it can be (pictured above with her stunning yellow locks), I’m offloading some of the links I’ve been hoarding and meaning to share for *mumblemumble.*
This coming Memorial Day weekend will be the first since Band of Brothers paratroopers and all-around excellent South Philly boys Bill Guarnere and Babe Heffron passed away, 14 weeks apart. Robyn Post, who co-wrote their excellent autobiography Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends, shared some memories of the two that had me belly-laughing. For a pair of guys I never met, I am awfully fond of them.
I am one of the five remaining people in the world who doesn’t have Netflix, but apparently a glitch in its software is creating amazing program summaries of offerings we really wish existed.
I always notice when I find myself collecting clusters of stories. The first is about disappearing online, and the attendant anxieties of data mining, electronic tracking and surveillance, government or profit-driven:
However, I don’t know if any of them can be as unsettling, beautiful, eerie and terrifying as slowing down “Because” to 800% of its normal speed, without distortion. The track is almost 20 minutes long, and I’m sure some of it is in Parseltongue, but it’ll stay with you. Wow, is that song good.
Inside the Corporate Fandom Marketing Machine gets inside the process of successful social media campaigns and leveraging fan passion to make waves (and money) and stay on the air. A good breakdown of differences in behavior from fans of different ages too.
Diversity Cross-Checking Reference for Writers offers a directory of contacts who are happy to answer questions about culture, lived experience and whether that thing you’re writing is on the right track or totally, completely, embarrassingly wrong. Pair with Disability After the Singularity, which questions why sci-fi is so hellbent on a universally able-bodied future, and what we’re missing when we “fix” disability in fiction. (Also, this interview with the woman who coined the term “white privilege” is worth a read. I guess we found my third link cluster.)
On best-ofs: I’m a sucker for these, and always mean to go through the lists more closely. Conor Friedersdorf (The Atlantic) has assembled his 100 best nonfiction stories of 2013, while NPR is set to release a massive database of commencement addresses, since it’s that season.
Finally, because perhaps not all of you are watching me utterly lose my mind over Captain America: The Winter Soldier over at Tumblr, I have to share this incredible fanvid here. It’s not what you think; give it a watch. If you have feelings about Bucky Barnes, this one is going to give you more.
So simple, but also completely devastating, especially when you note the edge of the window in the corner and think about what that means for you the viewer. (Pair with this Leyendecker-inspired portrait of Steve Rogers, which has incredible details layered in. Look, I really love this movie, okay?)
One thing that struck me about Captain America: The Winter Soldier was the film’s emphasis on recognition scenes. Steve Rogers, the protagonist, has been asleep for 70 years, and the America that he finds on waking is a much different one than the one he grew up knowing. For the past couple weeks I’ve found myself collecting links about the ways in which the United States has become unrecognizable, even in my lifetime, and it’s far past time I shared them. (I’d like to disclaim again that I’m in no way saying that the 1940s and that whole “Greatest Generation” thing are more authentic or superior somehow. See also: Feminism, civil rights and modern medicine, for starters.)
What got me started on this link-hoarding spree was finding a handful of essays about cost of living in San Francisco, London and New York, versus the affordability gap between metro areas and exurban cities in general. Saloncalled gentrification violence, a particular kind that thrives on erasure. You’re expected to participate in these processes, if you want certain things for your career. You may have no choice, if you’re lucky.
I say “if you’re lucky” because education is very much a part of where opportunities happen, and education at all levels in the United States is in serious trouble. Teach for America, which sells itself as a chance for high-achieving college grads to do good in school districts that need the most help, is a destructive scam. Overworking students and teachers isn’t just an epidemic in the UK. The arms race for admission to the most elite colleges has tipped well into obscenity. The “superbrand” universities are coming out fine, assuming you discount the hidden costs of attending and the ongoing job market and salary catastrophe for adjuncts, grad students and non-tenured faculty. (Polls are finding that superbrand college experiences aren’t even necessary for happiness or success, but the allure of prestige is so hard at 17 or 18, especially when you’re terrified that if you “settle” now, you’ll have missed your chance forever.) Again, this is all assuming you get in the door.
Meanwhile, government keeps failing us, and we’re too deadlocked to see our way out: knowing more about issues and situations actually entrenches our partisanship further. Redistricting has turned the organizational units of Congress into a place with virtually no idealogical overlap. Racism entrenches those divisions further still. See what happens when only certain people can afford to live where there are jobs?
This is a really cursory, totally surface-level collection of links; I keep following these stories whenever they crop up, and the deep-current trends are distressing and overwhelming. These are not necessarily the best links about these stories, just the most recent. If I dug more, I could put together something much more damning. The conversation is hard to start, particularly when the first piece of financial advice for young people always seems to be “Stop buying $5 lattes every day.” It shows how little that side understands the economic situation of most young people if it assumes we’ve got disposable income like that.
No wonder I’d much prefer to spend the rest of the day fantasizing about how amazing Hayley Atwell’s Agent Peggy Carter is going to be. If this badass can triumph over the sexism and every other -ism of the 1940s, we should have a fighting chance too, right?
The problem with Captain America: The Winter Soldier is that there’s no room for a bathroom break. Other Marvel movies have spots that slow down or drag, but Winter Soldier manages to make every moment plot-relevant and engaging. It’s one reason why I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it for two and a half weeks, and why I’ll be seeing it for a third time this afternoon.
I was never a big Cap fan: Thor was the one that grabbed me from the moment the lights came up, with its Shakespearean grandeur, self-effacing humor and immensely compelling brothers-at-war plot. I saw Captain America: The First Avenger opening weekend — a group of friends and I dressed up as ’40s ladies — and wanted to love it, since Band of Brothers was and is so important to me. I enjoyed it at the time, but thought it was over-long. The Avengers, released almost a year later, I found emotionally vacant, the cinematic equivalent of banging action figures together. The Thor sequel and the Iron Man films were fine, but they didn’t move me. I was really expecting similar from Winter Soldier.
Oh boy wow, was I wrong.
General praise first: Anthony and Joe Russo, primarily known before this for directing TV like Community and Arrested Development, did something we didn’t expect but should have seen coming — they made an entirely character-driven story. The fight scenes are spectacular (and all very distinct), but they’re also critiques of fight scenes and the military industrial complex that drives their demand. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is deeply uncomfortable with his role within SHIELD and its workings, as well he should be: the movie is really about drone strikes and the NSA. When Rogers needs help, between Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Sam “Falcon” Wilson (the standout Anthony Mackie), Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), he’s literally the only white man at the table. There’s no romantic subplot, and that’s thrilling: all the women are competent, fully-fleshed and motivated by more than sharing screen time with Cap.
Here is the thing about Republic of Tea’s Downton AbbeyGrantham Breakfast Blend: it’s really quite nice for about ten minutes. The label promises a sort of “sticky ginger pudding” experience with a splash of milk. And it’s true, the tea tastes pretty good at first, while it’s still piping hot. Better drink it quickly, though — or maybe let it steep longer than the suggested four to six minutes. It gets as dull and pointless as the Earl himself once it starts to cool.
You don’t need to be the acid-tongued Dowager Countess to see a one-liner there, so I’ll just leave things at this: I have switched back to my other Republic of Tea favorite, their Lucky Irish Breakfast black, which does, in fact, have the kick that makes you want to riot for suffrage and elope to Dublin. (Maybe not die in childbirth, though.)
I’ve been up to more than just having conversations with myself about tea. Last weekend I had the chance to see actual live theater that isn’t improv, which was a lovely outing. The show is running in Chicago now, and if its title,Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England, doesn’t intrigue you, the fact that it’s about creating a triad lesbian relationship while also confronting terminal cancer in a way that actually works might. Plus the dioramas are freaking hysterical — absolutely worth the price of admission. And of course, there are mammoths.
You may have noticed that I have missed a week, and that this is a bit late. There’s a good reason for that, and a nice one too. I’m doing some behind-the-scenes work as a copy editor at PolicyMic, which is a super hopping news site by and for Millennials. I’m still not over seeing stories on the front page and having a proud little moment of “Hey, I edited that!” But yeah, journalism work! I’m really pleased to be part of the PM team, who have been great to a person. Three cheers for work in your chosen field! (This is, incidentally, a classic example of burying the lede.)
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?
I moved to Chicago in 2002, but it was only yesterday that I tried paczki for the first time. For anyone not living a city completely obsessed, these are basically Polish doughnut-and-jam sandwiches that are a Fat Tuesday specialty in any self-respecting Chicagoland bakery. (You pronounce them “pooch-ki,” which I love.) If I’d ventured out a little earlier I could have enjoyed them in plum and rose flavors from my local paczki-providing establishment, but the raspberry one I scarfed yesterday afternoon was definitely up to par, and I’ve still got an apricot and a cherry-and-cheese to sample.
With the promise of spring marginally closer than it has been, I’m starting to get covetous. The photo above is from a recent trip to the Fluevog store in Wicker Park; along with Doc Martens, these are my favorite shoes, and dammit if there isn’t a sale and a gift certificate burning a hole in my pocket. (Naturally the most sublime, comfortable, unique pair is also the most expensive in that selection, but — I don’t know, I love a good splurge every few years. And those colors! I really need those colors in my life. We’ll see if I’ll have somewhere to wear them soon.)
Rumor has it February is going out on a snowstorm. I couldn’t be happier to see it go: at least March will tease you about spring. Chicago doesn’t do so well with the “out like a lamb” stuff, but the lion weather it’s got down.
Which means, for me, hoarding links. It’s been a pretty good week, and I’ve got some that were worth hanging onto.
We know by now how I feelabout selfies (I enjoy them and find them fascinating). Some data nerds out there find them fascinating too, enough to create Selfiecity, which investigates variations in selfie styles among five cities around the world.
I Am Los Angeles takes a documentary approach, presenting short video portraits of L.A. characters, “unique people who make Los Angeles what it is.” L.A. gets a bad rap most of the time, but it’s a city that’s intrigued me since my first visit in 2012. I would love to get back.
New Orleans Public Radio has put together an audio documentary of St. Claude Avenue, examining how and why the surrounding neighborhoods have changed. This is a city I have always wanted to see for myself.
Nieman Storyboard has assembled a panoply of links about “multimedia narrative and how to interview, structure, choose your medium, edit for sound, identify the story arc and more.” Really looking forward to trawling through these. (And who doesn’t love the chance to use the word “panoply”?)
Interactive storytelling offers so many possibilities for creative engagement and presentation, and it looks like there are already some websites out there to make those opportunities easier to access. Ren’py calls itself a digital novel engine: it “helps you use words, images, and sounds to tell stories with the computer.” Twine provides a framework for online stories that require code you might not know. Both sites feature links to stories that have already been created with their tools. I’m really looking forward to spending more time with these.
Ursula Vernon, one might think, can do it all. Her whimsical-hilarious-earthy-cartoony fantasy artwork (usually featuring unlikely and excellent animals) is a delight, she’s an award-winning cartoonist and author, and if you follow her LiveJournal, she seems to pour forth new fiction fully formed, like someone with an amazing curse. She’s got a problem, though, and it’s one that I confess to feeling myself: she’s bored of fantasy as it stands right now. I link this for two reasons: one, to convey how important it is to think outside the few boxes which are heavily marketed; and two, to scoop up some recommended reading, because despite Vernon saying she’s not interested in book recs right now, dozens of commenters have dropped in their two cents, and some of them might be good.
You wouldn’t think anything good could come from sensational lies about a sensational death, but it looks like David Katz, a good friend of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s, is funding a theater prize with the winnings from a libel suit.
Most of the rest of my tabs are job postings, crock pot recipes and neat thingsI can’t afford, but let’s end on a weird, hopeful note. The Mammoth Cometh is a long New York Times Magazine article about de-extinction, and one young optimist who really, really loves passenger pigeons. It’s probably the first time I’ve seen someone lay out what the process of de-extinction would actually look like, and what the implications of Jurassic Park-style science could really be on ecosystems and conservation policy. That sounds grim, and the article has some healthy skepticism about it, but I promise it might make you want to write fiction about it.
And with that, we made it! Happy Friday, all. If you’re loving any links, please feel free to share them in the comments! I love links and comments like the little girl up top loves — and I mean loves — conservatory koi.
I live about a block from some El tracks, but I can’t see them right now: the snow, which today is thundering, is too thick for any kind of visibility, period. Someday I’m going to be able to open one of these posts without an update on the weather, but to quote Aragorn, son of Arathorn, it is not this day.
Beyond that, this week has had some bright spots. For one thing, my diploma finally arrived! I don’t entirely know why I decided not to use my full middle name — maybe it’s some inadvertent co-branding with J for Journo, my media and news literacy Tumblr, which you should feel free to follow! — but hey, either way, I guess I’m now officially a master. So that’s nice.
I’ll also be visiting both Dad and dog in Ohio this coming week, which should be a bit of a balm for the news I received from a very nice sports medicine doc at the Northwestern student health center, which is that I’ve got something called patellofemoral pain syndrome — basically, my left knee has been buckling for the past month and I now need to strengthen a whole group of muscles I strenuously avoid using. The downside is that I can’t get back into running just yet, but joke’s on you, equally nice physical therapist: would I really run outside in all this?
NPR has put together what looks like a super cool interactive story about wolves. There’s a post going around Tumblr asking you to stand up if you were the girl who was really into horses, really into dragons or really into wolves. Guess which one I was.
FastCompanyprofiles Hale County, Ala., a rural community that serves as a testing grounds for “social design” architecture, which is supposed to create innovative affordable housing. How much has this helped the people who live there?
Rebecca Solnit writes about the Google bus protestors in San Francisco, and the wider implications the protests have about poverty and wealth in the Bay Area. I did read this story with interest; I lived in San Francisco during the summer of 2006, just after graduating college, and the inequality I saw then troubled me enough that I didn’t want to stay. This essay does a good job of tying together a lot of important threads about the issue.
Beyond news stories, I’m having some trouble finding fiction I want to spend time with. On a friend’s advice, I recently tried picking up Connie Willis’s Blackout again. You have to understand, Connie Willis is one of my most beloved formative authors; my copies of Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog and her short story collection Impossible Things are in tatters. I want so badly to love or even like Blackout, but I can barely get through a paragraph or a frustratingly circular bit of dialogue without wanting to track down her editor and ask why she wasn’t doing her job.
So, what are you reading and what should I be reading, fiction and nonfiction alike? I just happened on a recommendation for Rachel Neumeier’s YA werewolf novel Black Dog, which sounds like it’s concerned with pack dynamics and character in really interesting ways. I also just finished AAN’s Best Alternative Longform ebook, which has kept me in love with the possibilities of the genre. What’s tickling your bookish fancy? What should I bring on the bus to Ohio, other than my pile of unfinished cover letters?
Special thanks to Wonder Woman #28 (1948) by William Moulton Marston & H.G. Peter for so clearly illustrating what seems to happen whenever I try to tell someone that they’d have a decisive win on their hands by hiring me.