8.14.2018

Too Short for a Blog Post, Too Long for a Tweet 142

Here are a few excerpts from a book I recently read, "Promise Me, Dad:
A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose," by Joe Biden.



When Dr. Yung checked in on us a little later, I pulled him aside and asked him a question all fathers must: “What should my son do now? How should he live?” He said Beau should be positive and hopeful. He should go home and do whatever he was going to do before the diagnosis. I told him Beau had been planning to run for governor of Delaware. “Then tell him to go home and run for governor,” he said. “He should live like he’s going to live.” 

I wanted the entire family to hear that, so I gathered everybody in the little hallway outside Beau’s room and Dr. Yung explained again that while this would be a difficult fight, there was hope. I think he was looking at Beau when he said it, but the message was intended for all of us. We should not let this disease take over our entire existence. He told Beau to go home and live like he had a future: “Run for governor. Have a purpose.” 

Almost every day after that, I found myself acting on that advice—have a purpose. No matter what came at me, I held fast to my own sense of purpose. I held on for dear life. If I lost hold of that and let Beau’s battle consume me, I feared, my whole world would collapse. I did not want to let down the country, the Obama administration, my family, myself, or most important, my Beau.

8.09.2018

Black Athletes on Black Issues


At the risk of stating the obvious or rehashing ground that many others have covered far more eloquently than I will, I feel compelled to call out a double standard in our attitude towards socially engaged black athletes.  When he calls attention to the plight of black people in this country, LeBron James is told to “shut up and dribble,” never mind that white athletes (and actors and musicians) are lauded for their charitable and humanitarian efforts.  When black NFL players kneel or otherwise use the playing of the national anthem to raise awareness of how black people are treated in our criminal justice system, people cry that a football game is not the time for social causes, never mind that any given week brings massive campaigns for things like breast cancer or pediatric research or childhood obesity.

8.07.2018

Too Short for a Blog Post, Too Long for a Tweet 141

Here are a few excerpts from a book I recently read, "The Underground Railroad," by Colson Whitehead.



The music stopped. The circle broke. Sometimes a slave will be lost in a brief eddy of liberation. In the sway of a sudden reverie among the furrows or while untangling the mysteries of an early-morning dream. In the middle of a song on a warm Sunday night. Then it comes, always—the overseer’s cry, the call to work, the shadow of the master, the reminder that she is only a human being for a tiny moment across the eternity of her servitude.


8.03.2018

My Completely Uninformed Take on the 10 Most Consequential Songs of the Past 30 Years

Picking up on last Friday’s blog, let’s now turn from movies to music.  So today’s question is: what are the most consequential songs of the past 30 or so years?  Or, to repeat from the movie post, what songs would you put in a time capsule for future listeners to understand our era?

As with movies, here I’m not talking about the best or most popular songs.  Although in compiling my list, I found myself waffling between memorable, iconic, and influential, and even further between defining influence in terms of pop culture versus in terms of social change.  You may be able to infer from my list what weight I assign to each such characteristic.  (You will also pick up a very strong bias towards hip hop, which is an homage to my younger days.)

8.02.2018

Recommended Reads, 30th in a Quarterly Series

Stuff I read recently that I would recommend:

The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It (McGonigal).  Dispelling the notion that all stress is toxic and should be avoided, McGonigal instead asks us to focus on how to "lean in" to the stress and grow stronger from it.

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America (Isenberg).  A fascinating panorama of American history from the lens of white-specific classism.


Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft's Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone (Nadella).  I loved Nadella's thoughtfulness about how to lead an iconic tech company that many had written off as irrelevant. 

Buzzed: The Straight Facts about the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy (Kuhn).  Stepping through the science and sociology of everything we can get addicted was sometimes scary and always informative.

When Breath Becomes Air (Kalanithi).  A beautifully touching memoir of a life cut short by cancer.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy (Sandberg).  Sandberg suffers an unspeakable loss, but with the help of her friend Wharton professor Adam Grant, she gains so much in how to grieve and what it means to change for the better through the grief. 

7.31.2018

Too Short for a Blog Post, Too Long for a Tweet 140

Here are a few excerpts from a book I recently read, "Brave," by Rose McGowan:



Our apartment was clean, but it was devoid of any kindness, which matched what was going on inside the walls. At this point, my father was deep in a rage he had had against women all his life, but now it had a clear focus: me. He would go off on me, and all women, calling me a “feminazi.” He sounded like your average schizophrenic on the street, arguing with some nonexistent entity about women, except I existed corporeally. 

I have been dealing with men’s hatred of me simply because I am a woman for my entire life, and it all started with my dad. We were born enemies based on gender. His excuse for his rage, for every failure, was women. All women were to blame. Therefore, I was to blame. I came to hate him as he hated me. The worst part was remembering what a magical being he had been when I was little. This monster in his place was the worst kind of betrayal. There are few photos of me that exist during this period, because my father said I was too ugly to photograph. After my years in Oregon, I was used to being called ugly. I would roll my eyes when he said that, but it still stung. 

We had no silverware at the Cave, or at least I didn’t. I was told I wasn’t worth buying silverware for. So I stole utensils from restaurants. I didn’t have a bed because I was told I wasn’t worth buying a bed for. My bedroom was the closet, where I slept on three pink square seat cushions taken from my aunt’s house. I wasn’t worth a lot in these days, apparently. 

My father often said things like “I can’t imagine anybody would ever want to be your friend” or “I can’t imagine anybody liking you.” He called me a whore almost daily to the point where I’d finish his sentences. I’d verbally mimic him as he went along. 

I knew he was wrong. I knew it was bullsh*t. The thing is, it still sticks. It gets through your walls of defense no matter how high you build them. It grinds you down, hearing this sort of stuff, day after day, being told you’re worthless or ugly. 

Being a free-spirited, strong-willed, independent young woman (to put it mildly), with a manic-depressive, woman-hating father was exhausting (to put it mildly). 

At least I could slide the closet door shut and be peaceful in the dark. Except I was not at peace. I never knew when he would come home, enraged by God knows what, spittle flying out of his mouth, wild dark eyes that refused to see me as anything other than everything he hated—a representation of all women. 

One night the closet door got thrown open. A shaft of light blinded me, but I knew it was my father standing there. He let out a yell and grabbed me by my neck. He dragged me out of the closet and onto the floor. I managed to choke out that I was going to call the cops. He said, “I’ll staple your tongue to the floor.” I’ll never forget the hatred in his eyes, but it wasn’t even me he was seeing, it was all women. I knew this, but it didn’t make it easier. 

Once I tried to tell my aunt what he was doing, but she got mad at me and told me he was the best father she knew. That effectively shut me up. I was stuck with him and I couldn’t see a way out. I used to sit in my bedroom/closet and write by flashlight on a yellow legal pad. I would write one thing, over and over, something I called “The Death Monologue.” It was a catalog, essentially, of my father’s sins and wrongs. My plan was to stand over my father while he lay in the dark on his bed and read it out loud. After delivering my blistering, operatic condemnation, I would then kill him with a meat mallet. Smooth on one side, spiky on the other, with a nice heft to the wooden handle. I was going to beat him to death. 

Ironically, the perfectionism that had been ingrained in me by the cult that he’d forced me into probably saved me from spending my life in jail for murder, because I could never get my monologue quite right: each day I had to update the list of his a**hole-isms, so the list was never finished. Well, that and the fact I knew my father at this time wasn’t worth jail.

7.27.2018

My Completely Uninformed Take on the 10 Most Consequential Movies of the Past 30 Years

I largely stopped going to the movies when I left for college.  That is now going on (gulp!) 27 years ago.  And it wasn’t like I was even an average let alone avid movie-goer before then. 

It’s not for lack of appreciation of the art form.  In fact, I think movies are an incredible slice of culture to consume.  Think of how many layers there are to a good movie (and even to a bad one): acting, sound, visuals, effects, character development, and narrative trajectory.  To say nothing of the time capsule they represent, providing social commentary about the trends, issues, and moods of the moment. 

Someone my age would probably have seen a few hundred movies in their adult life.  I have probably seen a few dozen.  That’s a big gap in the consumption of a rich form of art and culture. 

Yes, I am busy.  And yes, I have chosen other forms of leisure over movies.  But, this gap pains me, and not just because movies are just so enjoyable to take in.  As a studier of pop culture and an absorber of social commentary, I feel acutely this void in content and in the resulting contemporary conversation at around it.  So while I’m not sure when I will have the time to rectify this void, I do want to at least develop a running list of movies I ought to see in order to properly touch this era in our society.