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Monday, July 21, 2014

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What Jean Rhys Taught Me About Loneliness

rhysMy father told me during my rebellious teenage years, “Just please go to college.” After a few scrapes with boys and drugs and sex, I did. I went to UCLA and studied English, where I was introduced to Jean Rhys, the Caribbean-British writer whose turbulent life was filled with lovers and failed marriages, alcoholism and poverty, trips across the continent and even a stint at Holloway Prison.

As a junior I read Good Morning Midnight, a 1938 novel in which an aging beauty named Sasha wanders Paris after an attempted suicide in a London hotel room. In one scene, she daydreams:

Perhaps one day I’ll live again around the corner in a room as empty as this. Nothing in it but a bed and a looking-glass. Getting the stove lit at about two in the afternoon—the cold and the stove fighting each other. Lying near the stove in complete peace, having some bread with pate spread on it, and then having a drink and lying all the afternoon in that empty room—nothing in it but the bed, the stove and the looking-glass and outside Paris. And the dreams that you have, alone in the empty room, waiting for the door that will open, the thing that is bound to happen…

This was some of the loveliest prose I’d ever read. The repetition creates a mood of content; this “empty room” is something desirable, then it changes midway through—the bed and looking-glass are poor company—and she is alone, waiting for what is bound to happen, and we are with her, waiting for that thing just outside, which has been waiting to come in. It comes down to “the dreams you have.” Your misery is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

After graduation I worked at the Getty Research Institute, retrieving and returning special collection materials. Non-profits are the devil to work for: they offer themselves up as places of good intentions, but are really giant bureaucracies with a pedigree. The Getty is all buy this, purchase that, build, build, own, own. It’s perched high on a hillside commanding everyone on the 405 to look.

Rhys writes in Good Morning Midnight, “There are some fish in the pool of the Medicis fountain. Three are red and one gold. The four fish look so forlorn that I wonder whether they are just starting them, or whether they have had the lot, and they have died off. I stand for a long time, watching the fish. And several people who pass stop and also watch them. We stand in a row, watching the fish”.

That was how working at the Getty was—we were the fish. I quit after five years. It’s been nearly seven since I first read Rhys. During this time there have been two Olympics, the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and Detroit, the Haiti earthquake, the Japanese tsunami; there was the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting, Arab Spring, the Boston Marathon bombings—and Osama Bin Laden, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston died.

But none of these things touched me. I don’t mean they didn’t show up on my newsfeed or that I skipped the articles, but rather that I felt like I was watching from the beach as waves hit the shore. Since college I’ve been in this strange purgatory and almost everyone I know is there with me, overeducated and underemployed. When I was at the Getty we hired masters students as interns, and those without three years library experience did not get past human resources. At the bookstore the manager has a masters in nineteenth-century literature, the cashier has a degree in film, the girl who answers the phone—younger than us all—studied cultural anthropology and got her masters from the University of Edinburgh. “The passages will never lead anywhere, the doors will always be shut,” Sasha says about her job prospects. READ MORE

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Lydia Ainsworth, "PSI"


This is a good, weird, ghostly, flower-child forest of a pop song: some Joanna Newsom-goes-Spice Girls angles against a vaguely monkish, Massive Attack pulse. If you like it, check out Ainsworth's aggressively choreographed, mesmerizing video for "Malachite."

How to Cold Email a Complete Stranger

dear stranger I don't know
Reaching out to complete strangers to ask them for help is something we all have to do from time to time.This essential skill is something few people feel comfortable doing. It can feel both futile and presumptuous. How do you get attention and input from a busy person who doesn’t know you?

As an introvert, I’ve never been very comfortable with it, but after years of practice, I have learned a few things that make it easier—and likelier that I’ll get a response. I’ve sent out cold emails for any number of situations: scoping out a job prospect, asking for a comment or quote for an article, personnel recruiting inquiries, and general informational interviews all come to mind. While the ask in each case is different, the principles in play are fundamentally the same.

Here are five tips to get you started and increase your chance of success, with a real life example from an email I actually wrote in 2010 (with some small details modified, for privacy) when I was considering starting my own non-profit. READ MORE

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A Smart Girl's Guide To Responding To Pop Stars

We've all been there: You're having a great day, just hangin' out with your friends, enjoying your space, when one of those pesky pop stars shows up thinking he can seduce you with his sexist lyrics and gyrating hips. Sometimes it's so vulgar and obscene you're flabbergasted and stand there, wondering what you should say! Well, wonder no more. Here's a handy guide of appropriate responses and clever come-backs that will banish the know-nothing chauvinists who have somehow weaseled their way onto the radio.

IF HE SAYS: 

Tiesto

YOU SHOULD SAY:

Ok, first of all, not a big deal or anything, but just so you don’t get embarrassed in the future: it’s “LIE in it instead” not “LAY in it instead.” Lay is the past-tense of lie. That’s a common mistake. Don’t be too bummed out about it—language is evolving and everything, I’m just saying.

Now that that’s out of the way: You don’t get to decide how much I have to drink when I hang out with you. I don’t really care how much you “like it better.” I mean, you can go ahead and get wasted all you want, but I gotta warn you, you’re kind of a sloppy drunk. Maybe you think that whole throwing-yourself-on-the-bed-where-I-JUST-folded-my-laundry-while-I’m-getting-you-a-glass-of-water move is sexy, but I don’t know WHY. I’m much more interested in spending my time with people who want to have conversations with me in which they are able to complete sentences and remember topics. Pro tip: sober up, dance like no one’s watching, and then see if you can make an honest connection with another human being, OK?

Also, please fix my laundry. You fucked it up, and I have other stuff to do.

+++
IF HE SAYS:

DERULO

YOU SHOULD SAY:  READ MORE

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You'll Never Have Nothing to Read Again

"Nothing can compete with the shimmering immediacy of now," grumps David Carr: well, if we must access Bill Hader's thorough and fairly excellent list of book recommendations via the internet, so be it:

What are your literary guilty pleasures? Do you have a favorite genre?

I don’t believe in the term “guilty pleasure,” because it implies I should feel ashamed for liking something. A real guilty pleasure would be, I don’t know, taking gratification in some stranger’s ghastly death or something — which I guess I do enjoy, because I read a ton of true crime. So, O.K., O.K., I have a guilty pleasure, and it’s true crime. [...] Good true-crime books: David Simon’s “Homicide”; “In Cold Blood” (obviously); “Columbine,” by Dave Cullen; “Under the Banner of Heaven,” by Jon Krakauer; “The Devil in the White City,” by Erik Larson; “In Broad Daylight,” by Harry N. MacLean; “Shot in the Heart,” by Mikal Gilmore; “A Wilderness of Error,” by Errol Morris.

Elsewhere, of course, the New Yorker's just unpaywalled their archive from 2007 on. Longform's got 25 recommendations culled from these new releases (my favorites from this list, shimmering immediately, are Tad Friend's "Crowded House" and John Colapinto's "The Interpreter"), and I am most excited personally to reread Sarah Payne Stuart's gorgeous, quiet "Pilgrim Mothers" and Atul Gawande's masterpiece of nightmare "The Itch."

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Origami Indistinguishable From Magic

cuckoo clockVQR's interview with origami wizard Robert Lang is geeky, unfathomable, and incredibly cool:

Joshua Foer: I want to start by asking you about how you made a name for yourself in the field of origami. As I understand, it all started with a single work you completed in 1987.

Yes, the cuckoo clock. It has leaves around the outside and a deer’s head on top, and a cuckoo, of course, coming out the door, and pinecone weights, and the pendulum, and all of this is folded from a single uncut sheet of paper. Oh, and it told the correct time twice a day. That got a lot of attention in the origami world, which is a very small world but it’s still got a lot of competition. After that, one thing led to another.

Just so we’re all clear about the terms here: That was folded with one uncut sheet of paper—​no glue?

No glue.

How big was the paper?

A one-​by-​ten-​foot rectangle.

Lang, who talks about origami's effect on medicine and industrial design (and has more than 50 patents under his name and was formerly the editor of a quantum electronics journal) gives heartening career advice ("Pursue your passion and not really worry about whether there’s a practical payoff. Many things you wouldn’t have thought would have a practical payoff, like paper-​folding, turn out to have one") that is also probably best followed under condition of first being a genius. [VQR]

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This Is The Day Before 40

It's my birthday and I'll weep uncontrollably if I want to“July 18th” read the email that appeared a couple of weeks ago at the top of my inbox, so bold-faced and full of promise.

Ah, the day before my 40th birthday, I thought; Josh must have something fun planned for My Big Middle-Aged Moment. Dinner at State Bird? A weekend in Big Sur? Ooo, a Billy Joel concert?

Back when 40 sounded as far, far away as 50, I had all sorts of plans, too. Oh, by 40 I was supposed to have been a New Yorker staff writer; a Kenyan-level marathoner; an unselfish mother. (I mean, if a mother at all, which was not so much on my "To Accomplish List" as it was on my "To Put Off Until the Last Possible Moment and My Husband Makes Me List.")

I was supposed to be the mature adult I’d always avoided being, but by the time I actually turned 40 presumed I’d just naturally, you know, be.

But now here I am, a day away from the birthday every female dreads—despite Tom Junod’s recent backhanded ode to women even two whole years older—and I’m 0 for 3:

The New Yorker once paid me $1,200 for a short piece, but then it never ran. I haven’t run 26.2 miles since the year 2000. And as for the unselfish mother thing... weeeell, I just took a two-week solo trip to Bhutan, the other happiest place on earth, and left my two little kids at home.

Which brings me to my less, shall we say, lofty goals. You know, the stuff I just expected to have gotten around to by the dawn of my fourth decade. Like, learn to ride a bike. (Yup, pathetic, I know. 0 for 4.) READ MORE

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"Impenetrable Abyss" Is the New Black

A British company has produced a "strange, alien" material so black that it absorbs all but 0.035 per cent of visual light, setting a new world record. To stare at the "super black" coating made of carbon nanotubes – each 10,000 times thinner than a human hair – is an odd experience. It is so dark that the human eye cannot understand what it is seeing. Shapes and contours are lost, leaving nothing but an apparent abyss.

-Yeah, Vantablack is almost surely going to be used to kill people, but DAMN can you imagine that mascara?!?! [Independent]

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"I’ve been booed in over 30 countries": The Ronda Rousey Story

Rowdy RouseyKelefa Sanneh profiles Ronda Rousey, the former Olympian judoka and currently star of the UFC's mixed martial arts circuit, in this week's New Yorker. The UFC's female division essentially exists because Rousey does; the 27-year-old has never lost and is known for a punishing, unique arm bar that she brought over from her judo training. She's both the sport's star and "heel" (her walk-up music in one match is Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation"), and no other woman can compete with her. "In order to keep the attention of a restless audience," Sanneh writes, "Rousey needs to find another Rousey":

When Rousey talks about her reputation, she often uses the language of professional wrestling, as if her heel turn were merely a ploy to drum up interest. “If you’re cheering and the person next to you is booing, you’re going to cheer louder,” she says. “I love that. I love creating conflict within the audience.” But at her most compelling she sounds less like a sly provocateur and more like a sensitive soul, deeply offended by those she feels have wronged her. During her judo days, crowds usually rooted against her, maybe just because she was an American, in a sport typically dominated by Asians and Europeans. “I’ve been booed in over thirty countries,” she says, and some part of her still seems surprised, and perhaps a little hurt, that stardom hasn’t eliminated this phenomenon.

[The New Yorker's shiny new website]

7

A Woman Tapes Her Street Harassers


Via BuzzFeed: a Minneapolis woman named Lindsay is talking to and taking video of her aggressive catcallers, as well as handing out these Cards Against Harassment (a gesture which many of the men find, naturally, to be quite aggressive). You will recognize so many awful interactions in this guy above, as well as this "I honestly don't know why you'd be offended" business bro, and this "bitch means that you're sexy" fellow, and oh no, all the other ones.

Lindsay's work is the Lord's work, requiring much more patience and blood-pressure regulation than my normal blank face/middle finger combo; in light of the fact that men tend to refrain from this behavior when other men are present, there cannot possibly be enough visibility on shitty harassment that half of the population barely blinks at and half of the population barely sees. [BF]

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Laura Doggett, "Phoenix"


When's SOHN going to do a joint EP with some eerie, soulful female vocalist? This incredibly impressive debut from Laura Doggett puts his ambivalent and looping stutter in the background of a jazz-standard melody that runs like a black river: it's like Nina Simone crossed with Banks.

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Weekend Roundup

bo peepWell, it's been a nightmare of a week as a bystander, so I'm going to go make some sangria in the chapel of flickering expectations and be horribly glad to be alive. In case you missed anything this week, we've got essays about porch sign syndrome, love and pie baking, city and country and town; we've got some improved yoga poses, period burgers, historical French murderesses, and questions from five-year-olds. We asked a Fancy Person and a Queer Chick and our favorite witch in the game, and we earned ourselves another day on earth in Los Angeles. Get on our level, last names and all, and have a wonderful weekend.

Photo via Brioso/Flickr

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In Praise of Broads

STRITCHLike a lot of theater fans, I've been mourning the death of brassy Broadway legend Elaine Stritch. It means there’s one less fabulous, foul-mouthed, talented, gin-swilling broad on this earth. "You can't be funny unless you're tragic,” Strich once said, “and you can't be tragic unless you're funny." It’s a perfect piece of Broad Philosophy: an earthy, basic understanding of life’s ups and downs, and knowing that the only way to cope is to laugh.

I suddenly realized that nobody uses the word “broad” much anymore (save for the broads of Broad City, of course). The origins of this word are hazy, too. Some claim it refers to women’s hips being broader than a man’s, or that it refers to playing cards or meal tickets. (Hence the association with prostitution.) Later, broads were synonymous with floozies, and loud-mouthed, vulgar women. When Frank Sinatra used it in Guys and Dolls, the term was elevated a bit, but it still had the whiff of impropriety.

Whatever its source, few women ever willingly refer to themselves as broads. But I say we change that. It’s time to claim broad status with pride. When I think of a broad, I picture a quick-witted woman who can think on her feet, even if she’s wearing heels. I think of someone with a great sense of humor about themselves, humor that has been earned. A broad is a survivor with style. A broad enjoys male company but isn’t dependent on it. A broad is ballsy and uses salty language when she feels like it. A broad knows how to laugh and knows how to get out of a jam.

Most of all, I believe that a broad delivers zingers, which is why my list of broads may surprise you. Sure, Mae West was a broad—maybe the ultimate broad—but not because of the tight dresses and ability to belt out a song. Beyoncé does that, too, but she’s never delivered a zinger like, “Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before.” Broads don’t take themselves or life that seriously. They know that one day you’re traveling first class, the next day you can’t afford coach. But you can look good either way.

Still confused? I’ve made a list of broads, stealth broads, and future broads.  READ MORE

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Exhibits A, B, C, D. | July 18, 2014

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Shlohmo x Jeremih, "Let It Go"


Halfway through my first listen (or actually, from the topline riff at 1:20 through its shifted rejoinder at 2:10) this song was already one of my very favorites of 2014. It’s impeccable, prayerful and debauched, pitch-black and incandescent: like early Bone Thugs filtered through two decades of tabloid cynicism and political nightmare and then flowering into this era of broad, broken, experimental pop. 10 out of 10 in my book (the Trap Book of Lamentations); the whole Shlohmo x Jeremih EP is up for free download here.