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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

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"I woke up this morning thinking about Fannie Lou Hamer and Margaret Walker Alexander"

Actually, I woke up this morning thinking about Fannie Lou Hamer and Margaret Walker Alexander. I don’t know why, but thinking about them, and your relationship to them, and the lives they lived in Mississippi, just made me so sad. Usually, thinking about them is a way of hugging myself, like you say. But today, I just feel the worst part of the weight they experienced as black women activists and artists living in Mississippi.

I learned about Mrs. Hamer from Leslie. Leslie had been a young student activist and had worked with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and Mrs. Hamer. I learned how she embraced young people and the SNCC folk who recruited her in Indianola, and how she joined the movement realizing that she would be kicked off the plantation and left homeless. I hurt for her all over again when I read and reread how she was sterilized and beaten in Winona, and how she did not have good healthcare during her bout with cancer. Even after all she did for our state, she died painfully, poor and penniless. She matters to me even now because she fought to help the nation and our state get closer to its creed. You love Mrs. Hamer as well. Why is that?

Kiese Laymon speaks with his mother in a long, lovely and sometimes heartbreaking interview for Guernica's American South issue this month. Go read it. [Guernica]

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Kelis, "Breakfast"


I have returned from the land of breakfast tacos and 70-degree weather (Austin! What a town!) and I just wanna say, all of you living in cities where porches and breakfast tacos are normal and expected and a part of your everyday life, you've really figured things out and I'm very happy for you. For breakfast today: this wonderful new Kelis track, which she performed at SXSW last week at NPR Music's Stubb's showcase. Her album, Food, is due out in late April.

Some other highlights, very briefly: at Fader Fort, SZA, who told the crowd last year she was "homeless" in Austin and couldn't even get into any venues, Erykah Badu, who remains one of the greatest live acts I've ever seen, and Brattleboro, Vermont native JoJo, who performed all of her hits AND her Phil Collins cover. Sam Smith was also quite wonderful, but he is neither a lady nor a breakfast taco, so who cares. [NPR]

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Villa Tunari

A man in hiking boots was setting up a tent in the courtyard of the hostel when I came back. Hola, I said. Are you sleeping here?

He was. The hostel owner told him that there weren’t open rooms, so he asked to camp. Where are you from? He asked. He was from Colombia and finishing his trip through Bolivia on his motorcycle. Was he handsome? I couldn't tell in the dim light.

I had been lonely in Cochabamba, a city that reminded me of California, with wide streets and shiny malls. Earlier I stood waiting for the traffic light to change, and someone had thrown an orange at me. It hit my upper arm, a blunt pain and the scent of citrus. I heard laughter as the car drove away. Maybe they hadn’t liked my hat. Another time I got on a bus to get to the central plaza, but instead the bus was headed for el campo, the countryside. When I realized, I was too embarrassed to ask the driver to stop, on a desolate street that couldn’t have been anyone’s destination.

The hostel had a lovely garden, with white metal swings and pink flowers. One morning I did yoga barefoot on the grass. But there were no other travelers here, and I was eager for my luck to change.

I talked to the Colombian until the lights in the garden went off. I like South America because things are simple here, I said. I didn’t think so much, overanalyze. He said it wasn't simple at all. Did I understand the phases of the moon, the stories told by the stars? It was enough to look at them, I said. But maybe I was wrong. He could have taught me everything about the stars.

I asked him about Villa Tunari, a jungle town a few hours away. Someone had told me the name the night before. It was supposed to be very beautiful. He was going tomorrow, he said. Oh! I wanted to go too. Vamos! He said, like I’d hoped.

**

In the morning, I packed my bags. My hiking shoes were still at the cobbler's. They had split like an open mouth at the front. The cobbler's door stayed shut. I asked the store owner next door if he knew Villa Tunari. Could I wear sandals there?

Sure, he said, it's hot. As long as you're not planning to walk in the mountains. I decided I'd be okay.

The Colombian started his motorcycle, its steady roar. I’d only ridden the back of a motorcycle once before, not wanting to miss a bus in a small Colombian town. I had been nervous and held on tight. Could I do it for four hours? I didn't even have a helmet. Come on, he said. I climbed on. READ MORE

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"What Made the Universe Bang to Begin With"

One night late in 1979, an itinerant young physicist named Alan Guth, with a new son and a year’s appointment at Stanford, stayed up late with his notebook and equations, venturing far beyond the world of known physics. He was trying to understand why there was no trace of some exotic particles that should have been created in the Big Bang. Instead he discovered what might have made the universe bang to begin with. A potential hitch in the presumed course of cosmic evolution could have infused space itself with a special energy that exerted a repulsive force, causing the universe to swell faster than the speed of light for a prodigiously violent instant.

If true, the rapid engorgement would solve paradoxes like why the heavens look uniform from pole to pole and not like a jagged, warped mess. The enormous ballooning would iron out all the wrinkles and irregularities. Those particles were not missing, but would be diluted beyond detection, like spit in the ocean.

“SPECTACULAR REALIZATION,” Dr. Guth wrote across the top of the page and drew a double box around it.

On Monday, Dr. Guth’s starship came in. Radio astronomers reported that they had seen the beginning of the Big Bang, and that his hypothesis, known undramatically as inflation, looked right.

Reaching back across 13.8 billion years to the first sliver of cosmic time with telescopes at the South Pole, a team of astronomers led by John M. Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics detected ripples in the fabric of space-time — so-called gravitational waves — the signature of a universe being wrenched violently apart when it was roughly a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second old.

This is the biggest space news of all! I barely understand it!!!!!!!!! I'm going to read this beautiful New York Times explainer over and over until I do?!?!?!?!?!

2014 March Madne$$: The School Tuitions Of The NCAA Bracket

Click for large version.

It is once again time for the NCAA "March Madness" basketball tournament. The eventual champions will get to bask in the national spotlight. And sure, winning a basketball title is worth bragging about—but we all know the real champion is the institution of higher education that can charge the most tuition and still have enough students to keep its rejection letter printer warm. It's The Awl's annual NCAA bracket by tuition, using the college information resource Peterson's. (Where available, in-state tuition was used.) Since we first began March Madne$$ in 2009, the winning tuition has risen from $38,622 to $47,290. READ MORE

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Seven Irish Women You Should Know

Just in case you’re planning on attending a St Patrick’s Day party where you want to gather a small group in the corner and wow them with your mastery (mistressy?) of Irish trivia and feminist history over whisky, I present you with a completely subjective list of The Greatest Women in Irish History. I suggest interrupting every rendition of “Danny Boy” with a story about one of these ladies, whose lives I have summarized below.

1. Granuaile / Gráinne Uí Mháille / Grace O’Malley / The Pirate Queen of Ireland

There is not a single mention of this bold and wily chieftain in official Irish historical records, probably because she was 1) a woman and 2) very pragmatic, and tended to side with whoever would keep her clan in power. Not exactly inspiring for later Irish rebels. But stories of her feats in the 16th century were preserved in the folk tradition and in official English records: Grainne was the annoying lady with the cunning ability to steal all their gold.

She was the only child of the chief of the O’Malleys, who ran the area of the Irish west coast now known as County Mayo. She captained a fleet of fishing boats that frequently turned into pirate ships, mostly when English ships swung too close to the Irish coast. She hit her peak after she outlived her first husband and married the chief of the Bourke clan at 36; he became her second–in-command, of course.

The coolest thing ever: when Grainne was in her 60s, she negotiated with Queen Elizabeth I—in Latin. The two powerhouses agreed to partner up against some of the more bothersome Irish clans. This was bad for the cause of Irish freedom, but quite good for Grainne herself. Although plenty of balladeers in the following centuries slapped her name onto nationalist poems and songs, the leader of the O’Malleys was a pirate and a tribal leader first, and a very tough broad. Anne Chambers’s biography Granuaile: The Irish Pirate Queen is the only real, thorough history of her life, if you can still find it.

2. Mary Kenny (really, the whole Irish Women’s Liberation Movement, but she was the face of it in the news)

The journalist worked with other rabble-rousing feminists to challenge the ban on contraception in the Republic of Ireland in 1971. The constitution, written in 1937, sanctimoniously told women they were mothers and wives first, so divorce and any kind of contraception were illegal; even advertisements for family planning were censored for immorality. But Mary Kenny and a bunch of other crazy radical womyn thought they should be able to get laid without getting up the duff, so they decided to openly defy the bishops and cranky old men running the country and (gasp!) bought contraception. READ MORE

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On the "Apartheid of Children's Literature"

Christopher Myers writes wonderfully at the New York Times about "The Market" of children's literature, in which, "of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, just 93 were about black people."

“Who would stand in the way of such a thing?” I’ve asked this question of industry folks, of booksellers, of my father, who’s been fighting this battle since before I picked up my first words. The closest I can get to the orchestrator of the plot — my villain with his ferret — is The Market. Which I think is what they all point to because The Market is so comfortably intangible that no one is worried I will go knocking down any doors. The Market, I am told, just doesn’t demand this kind of book, doesn’t want book covers to look this or that way, and so the representative from (insert major bookselling company here) has asked that we have only text on the book cover because white kids won’t buy a book with a black kid on the cover — or so The Market says, despite millions of music albums that are sold in just that way.

Myers calls this an "apartheid of literature, in which characters of color are limited to the townships of occasional historical books that concern themselves with the legacies of civil rights and slavery but are never given a pass card to traverse the lands of adventure, curiosity, imagination or personal growth," and compares the current "mandates" to the long period where children's literature feared the occult.

That is, until a number of years later, when a certain wizard came along, and vampires, witches, werewolves and Greek gods, and all manner of magical beings soon followed. Perhaps the wizard and all his supernatural kin were able to elude the dictates of The Market because they had magic wands and powers. Or perhaps the imagination of publishers, parents, teachers, editors, librarians and book buyers, these people who care so much for children and literature and believe in good stories told well, in cartographies that have no blind spots, was much more important, in the end, than that unwritten rule put forth by The Market, that backward segregated map that has led us to this dismal place.

Read the rest of Myers' piece here.

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The Yoga-Juice Continuum

Previously: The Smear-Passion Index

Tricia Louvar is a writer and visual artist living in a log cabin with her family. Visit her at tricialouvar.com.

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For Two People, A Wedding Announcement

Tara Marie Goldsmith and Rhett Ryan Johnson were married May 27th in Central Park. “A lot of people get married in May because it’s nice out,” Tara said.

The couple met on OkCupid three years ago when Tara was 27 and Rhett was 29. Under things he couldn’t live without, Rhett listed “oxygen,” which Tara thought humorous. Under things she couldn’t live without, Tara listed “chapstick” and “her friends,” which to Rhett, seemed good enough.

Their first date was at a sort of nice restaurant in Manhattan. When asked about the name, neither could recall. “It was the kind of restaurant with cloth tablecloths, not paper,” Rhett said. “No, I’m pretty sure they were paper,” Tara remembered. “I remember, because there was a jar in the middle with crayons. I was doodling when I got bored.”

They decided to go dutch because Rhett wasn’t really feeling it. “She kept talking about her family and her job,” he said. “I get it, but come on.” Tara also wasn’t that interested. “When I didn’t laugh at his jokes, he told me I just didn’t get his sarcasm. But that it was ok, because most people didn’t.”

Tara, however, pursued it. “My biological clock was ticking. I kept seeing on Facebook so many of my friends from high school were getting married, and I was just falling further and further behind. And Rhett was nice.” READ MORE

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Sylvan Esso, "Play It Right"


I am a huge fan of Sylvan Esso—like with Wet, I am always very pleased to hear a gorgeous folksy melody strapped to a pitch-black basement beat—and I got even more excited for their upcoming full-length debut (out on Partisan May 13th) after seeing them play at SXSW; they were one of the few bands that pretty much all my friends went out of their way to check out, and the live vibes are so strong I went twice. Here's the song they closed with, a live recording from the Wilderness Bureau with Amelia and Nick dancing around like role models.

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Happy St. Patrick's Day to everyone who's got a little or a lot of Irish in you. [Vitamin D joke] Here's a brief history of the endorsement tussles of New York City's annual, anti-LGBT parade; Guinness, who has lobbied for today to become a national holiday and throws 36 St. Patrick's Day parties in Malaysia alone, just withdrew their sponsorship. And here's a little gem from the St. Patrick's Day Wikipedia page:

The shortest St Patrick's Day parade in the world takes place in DripseyCork. The parade lasts just 100 yards and travels between the village's two pubs.
| March 17, 2014

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Another thing I like to do is give my vagina a little vitamin D. [Laughs] I was reading an article written by an herbalist I studied about yeast infections and other genital issues. She said there’s nothing better than vitamin D. If you’re feeling depleted, go in the sun for an hour and see how much energy you get. Or, if you live in a place that has heavy winters, when the sun finally comes out, spread your legs and get some sunshine. [Laughs]

-Shailene Woodley, everybody. ♬♪ Shailene, Shailene, Shailene, ShaiLENE! ♬♪ We callin it Vitamin D now? I hear it really helps get you through those chilly last weeks of winter. In this Into the Gloss interview she also talks about oil pulling, horse hair, and getting beauty tips from cab drivers ("For example, clay is one of the best things you can put in your body.") | March 17, 2014

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Sia, "Chandelier"


Hi guys, I'm back! Emma and I have been at SXSW stalking rappers and refusing to engage with #brands, which were operating at a quite feverish peak this festival ("You could say it was a new low, but last year, I saw Public Enemy, musical heroes of my youth, perform “Fight the Power” inside a mock Doritos vending machine"). This new joint from Sia, which she considered passing to Rihanna or Beyoncé or Katy Perry and then decided to keep for herself, will serve as my partial review of the last 7 days.

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Dogs I Saw This Week, Rated

5-star dogs

A scruffy gray mutt tied to a parking meter. V. old, had to lie down by scooting paws forward in several stages. ★★★★★

A friendly pit bull begging for food outside the local teen boba-tea hangout. Apparently v. fond of tapioca balls. ★★★★★

A golden retriever going jogging with its owner. Seemed v. enthusiastic and smiley about going jogging with its owner. ★★★★★

A boxer puppy tied to the leg of a table on a restaurant patio, begging for food. Looked v. soft and floppy. ★★★★★

A pit bull with a homeless owner on a bus going down Haight Street. V. well-behaved even though people were always almost stepping on her. ★★★★★

A Cavalier King Charles spaniel that a woman brings to one of my classes every week. Stays completely quiet and still, but still v. distracting because extremely cute. ★★★★★

A Chihuahua mix trotting alongside its owner, and instead of stepping with its right front leg and left back leg, it used both its right legs and then both its left legs, so that it was sort of hopping from one side to the other while moving forward. V. waddly and roly-poly. ★★★★★

[Image via.]

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"The Teenager Was the Invention of Adolescent Girls": An Interview With Matt Wolf

Teenagers didn’t always exist. That’s one of the first things you’re told in Matt Wolf’s new documentary Teenage, a hypnotic meditation on the rise of youth culture from the end of the 19th century to the first half of the 20th century. The film was written by Jon Savage and based on his book Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture 1875-1945, and it’s full of incredible found footage, old photos, and unearthed home movies made by German Swing Kids. This isn’t a dull, academic dissection of youth—it’s part poetry, part punk manifesto about the birth of youth culture.

Today we have convenient labels like Millennials, Gen Y, and Gen X. Back then it was Flappers, Sub-Debs, Jitterbugs, Hitler Youth, and German Wandervogel, a sort of 60s hippie prototype made up of kids who wanted to return to nature after the trauma of World War I.

Wolf got Bradford Cox (Deerhunter/Atlas Sound) to score the film and Jena Malone, Ben Whishaw, Julia Hummer and Jessie Usher read from a mix of old diary entries and written testimony from teens he and Savage found in newspapers and books. One of the most intriguing figures is Brenda Dean Paul, a 1920s British actress and socialite who was a member of the Bright Young Things—a nickname the tabloids gave to wealthy kids (including Cecil Beaton and Evelyn Waugh) who ran around London getting famous for looking fabulous, doing drugs, and throwing elaborate, themed parties, like a “Bath and Bottle Party” at a swimming pool. The invitation told people to “bring a bath towel and a bottle.” Sort of like the less offensive ancestor of “bros and hoes” parties. Sadly, Brenda Dean Paul eventually got hooked on morphine, wrote an autobiography called My First Life, became fodder for the gossip rags, and faded into history.

I talked to Wolf about what inspired him to make the film, his favorite discovery along the way, and how “the teenager was the result and invention of adolescent girls.”

You were inspired to make the film when you read Jon Savage’s book, but was it hard to convince him to let you do it?

It wasn’t so hard to convince him—I think it was harder to convince myself that it would be possible to adapt his book. It covered so much material that it was intimidating. I read his book and was struck by how different his style of storytelling was; it wasn’t academic. He wrote a famous book about punk called England’s Dreaming and I felt like his punk perspective really colored his depiction of history.

How did you pitch your idea for the film?

I went to him proposing to make a different kind of historical film, one that breaks from the conventions of Ken Burns and PBS—something that embraced that punk spirit.

Most of the voiceover is from actual old diary entries, but did you guys write any original material? I just ask because some of the footage—like the footage of Brenda Dean Paul—is made up of reenactments.

There is some scripted material to provide some historical context, but in general we rendered the voice of youth from actual quotes and teenage diaries and written testimony in newspapers and books.

The found footage is so amazing and well preserved that it’s kind of eerie. Did any of the footage really startle you as you were researching?

There were a couple of things in the footage that blew my mind. For one thing the color home movies of German Swing Kids just felt like such a secret that had been discovered. Those people were risking their lives to smuggle in fashion from other countries, and the fact that they filmed each other and that it has been preserved was astounding to me. The home movies we found of young people dressing up in drag in the 1920s—those kinds of things felt so hideously rare to me that it was so exciting to find them. READ MORE