The Week of Publishing My Favorite Thing I've Ever Written

Today's post is late because this morning was the annual Pittsburgh marathon. Open Hand Ministries asked me if I would be willing to volunteer at the fluid station they man every year, and so I spent the first part of the day cleaning up used cups thrown on the ground by marathon runners. Some time ago I read on the internet that races are ecological disasters, and I can now confirm that is true. I picked up hundreds of half-eaten goo packets and even a big hunk of watermelon. 

So it was a dirty and gross end to a week that started off on a fairly high note. I put the finishing touches on my essay about YouTube decluttering videos and launched the second issue of Brisket out into the world. I've never been happier with anything I've written. Part of that is due to the generous but firm guidance of expert editor Beth Anne Macaluso, but it's also because solving the mystery of why 600,000 decluttering videos exist on YouTube brought together my interests in pop culture, political economy, mental health, and makeup. It was a joy to struggle with the narrative and the argument of this essay each and every morning during my #shutupandwrite sessions.

I've now moved on to writing about feminist entrepreneurship, which grew out of a spectacularly thought-provoking and productive conversation with a friend who has years of experience working in tech start-ups. It's giving me the opportunity to finally write about the Kardashian-Jenner family and their history of entrepreneurship, so I'm stoked. I think I'm trying to turn myself into Anne Helen Peterson.


Here's what captured my attention this week...

I'm reading: Not much, honestly--I barely read anything this week. I did so much writing most days that by evening all I wanted to do was watch television. But I did read another issue of True Story and a few articles in the most recent New York magazine. I'm hoping to finish a few books this coming week, so I'm tentatively promising a more robust write-up next Sunday.

I'm listening to: Childish Gambino's This Is America

I'm watching: Videos of marbles racing down elaborate tracks. I discovered this genre by asking readers of Brisket what they watch on YouTube. Someone said that she watches marble racing videos, and after my shock subsided I devoured (and greatly enjoyed) a number of them. The swooshing of the marbles down the tracks and the clacking of marbles against obstacles is reminiscent of other ASMR triggers. Indeed, I found that these videos can be quite soothing. That's why I wasn't surprised to find that marble racing videos are just as popular as decluttering videos, also numbering around 600,000. If I've piqued your interest, I recommend the channel Jelle's Marble Runs

Enjoy posts like this one? Check out Brisket to read more about what's on my mind--just bring some bread to go with the meal! 

Brisket Vol. 1, No. 2: On Relieving Anxiety with YouTube

Yesterday I published the second issue of Brisket, a meaty essay of almost 4,000 words that asks (and answers) a hard-hitting question: why in the world are there so many videos on YouTube of people decluttering their stuff, and who the heck is watching them?

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I became completely preoccupied by this question in January, when I realized that I'd been neglecting a very enjoyable book that I was in the middle of reading. Instead of reading every evening before bed, I was watching decluttering videos on YouTube. All I wanted to do at the end of those long winter day was watch one of my favorite beauty YouTubers get rid of old bronzers. 

I've long been a fan of reality TV, and I'm not a particularly discriminating viewer--I'll watch some pretty mindless stuff. But decluttering seemed pretty dumb, even by my usually low standards. So  I began to wonder why, exactly, I kept watching. 

My quest to find an answer led me in some pretty surprising directions. Over the course of my research, I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and several scientific studies about Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR). I did a lot more quantitative research than I expected, in search of YouTube viewership statistics. And I watched a lot of videos of people pretending to brush my hair. 

I now finally know why I love watching decluttering videos--but through this investigation into the genre of YouTube decluttering videos I also came to understand YouTube’s ascendent popularity and gained some insight into how anxious people are spending their free time. This issue of Brisket tackles big questions about changing global economies, anxieties, and aesthetics but never loses focus of the fun and pleasurable spirit of YouTube. After all, that's the essence of Brisket: delicious and nutritious. 

Become a Brisket patron to read this month's essay!

The Week of Intentional Restoration

As the days get longer, I find myself waking up earlier and with more energy. This morning I was up and in the kitchen by 7:30 AM, prepping batter for a banana bread. I hadn't listened to Ornette Coleman in a while, so I put on The Shape of Jazz to Come and the improvisational musical approach had an influence on my baking. I added date syrup in place of honey after finding that ours had crystallized, and yogurt to augment the mashed bananas after realizing I didn't quite have the required two cups. Far from it, actually... I only had one. The good news is that it turned out great. I'm writing with hot coffee and a slice of banana bread that's fresh from the oven. 

Yesterday was also pretty heavenly; I took the entire day off. Before leaving the office on Friday afternoon I powered down my laptop and promised myself that I would not turn it on again until this morning. So I spent most of my Saturday reading, but also went to a spin class and took a nice long walk over to a local bookstore to celebrate Independent Bookstore Day. As much as I loved doing the writing retreat last Saturday, a day spent reading is more restorative. I've begun to think about energy in week-long time spans rather than daily ones. I can have several long workdays in a row as long as I'm getting enough sleep, but eventually that exertion catches up to me and no number of evenings spent watching mindless television is enough to replenish my energy. So I'm trying to be intentional about taking off at least one full day per week and two half days.

The result, at least this week, is that I have a lot of great books to report on!


Here's what captured my attention this week...

I'm reading: a new essay on women and lying from Adrienne Rich's On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose, and I read her analysis of Emily Dickinson's poetry this week as well. I also picked Karen Tei Yamashita's I Hotel back up and finished the first section, and now I feel sucked into the book's momentum. I doubt I can finish all 600-something pages before next week but I will have more to say about it in the coming weeks. Because that book is so heavy--I mean literally, my wrists start to hurt after reading it for a while, though the content is not light either--I am also reading Stewart O'Nan's svelte 200 page novel City of Secrets. I bought it yesterday at White Whale after the first few pages piqued my curiosity. The main character is a Holocaust survivor and refugee who smuggled himself into Mandate Palestine in 1945 and joined up with the Haganah. I'm positive this one is not going to have a happy ending, so I'm mentally preparing. 

On Thursday night I finished Thomas Mullen's Lightning Men, which was excellent. It focuses on a crime perpetrated by the KKK against another KKK member, and builds on the themes of police corruption, racism, and brutality that were central to the mystery in the first book (Darktown). Focusing on an internecine squabble within the Atlanta Klavern is such a smart move on Mullen's part, because as Officers Boggs, Smith, and Rakestraw investigate the crime their probes highlight ideological divides amongst whites about how to best deal with the changing Jim Crow racial order, and the ways in which both black and white Atlantans turned to violence (by choice or force) to protect their real estate interests. And as a historian I can confidently tell you this book is well researched. You passively absorb a lot of Civil Rights history through this detective mystery. I cannot wait for the next entry into this series.

The other book I read this week was Charles Soule's The Oracle Year, which was my Book of the Month pick for April. The premise is that Will Dando (a nobody musician) wakes up one morning from a dream with 108 predictions about events that will occur over the next twelve months. As the first few begin to come true, he has to decide what to do with this knowledge--and to figure out if his actions can change the future, or if he has no free will and has become a pawn of ... God? The U.S. Government? The Universe? I think this book can best be described as a comic book novelization, and the author is indeed a comic book writer. Will is like Spiderman, a normal guy who one day finds himself with great power and great responsibility. The pacing of the plot is fast, and I got so sucked in that I read all 400 pages of this book in under 24 hours. The ending did not disappoint, and although The Oracle Year asks fairly weighty philosophical questions, it never became pedantic or pretentious. Highly recommended!

I'm listening to: Janelle Monáe's new album, Dirty Computer. Though I have always enjoyed Monáe as an artist, activist, and actor, I have never gotten into her past albums. So far, however, I'm liking Dirty Computer and its raunchy double entendres. 

I'm watching: old episodes of Lip Sync Battle. The show is so dumb, but who doesn't love Chrissy Teigan? The episodes are also only 20 minutes long, so it's hard to get sucked in. I like turning it on while taking a quick snack break. Also, last week's season premiere of Westworld was excellent, and the new season of Silicon Valley is getting better and better. So I've got the high-low covered.

Enjoy posts like this one? Check out Brisket to read more about what's on my mind--just bring some bread to go with the meal! Next issue drops this Tuesday, May 1st. 

The Week of the Writing Retreat

All week long, I looked forward to Saturday—partially for the opportunity to sleep in, but also because I signed up to attend my friend Lisa Munro’s online writing retreat. I really wanted to use the time to get started on the next Brisket essay, and the retreat provided protected, structured time to spend considering my argument, the scope of the essay, and the stories I plan to tell. I spent a lot of time staring out the window, especially when my across-the-street neighbors walked their new puppy over to pee in our yard, but it was necessary. Those moments of round-and-round, ouroborian thinking eventually resolve into relatively clarified ideas, a rough but usable piece of marble that you can carve until it resembles an actual argument. 

Today I took the day off. With the exception of two hours spent on the phone with Verizon trying to resolve an internet connectivity issue, I spent the day baking, reading, laying in the park, drinking beer on the stoop, and eating all the delicious food that Kevin put in front of me. I have a busy week ahead, so I wanted to make resting and recharging a priority.

Here's what captured my attention this week...

I'm reading: an essay per week from Adrienne Rich's On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Proselast night I finished “Toward a Woman-Centered University." I’ve put down I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita for now because I got sucked into Thomas Mullen's Lightning Men, which I’m actually enjoying even more than Darktown. I’m realizing just how unlikeable the antagonist was in that book, and so far this book has spent more time focused on the complicated and compelling stories of Officers Boggs and Smith.

I also read two non-fiction pieces this week. I found “An Apology from the Internet—From the People Who Built It,” published in the most recent issue of New York Magazine, to be enlightening and infuriating. Enlightening, because more than one of the “architects” interviewed argued that the founding contradiction of Silicon Valley was its developers’ desire to be both socialists and libertarians. This resulted in the founding flaws of the internet. First, they made it free to use, but funded it by selling advertisements and users' data. And second, they elevated users’ freedom of speech above the experience of the collective, enabling bullies and making vast swaths of the web inhospitable to anyone who is not a straight white man. Infuriating, because even now, having realized what they’ve created, most of these men (Ellen Pao and Kate Losse are the only women quoted) sound naïve. I’d be curious to hear your reactions, should you also read the piece.

The other longform non-fiction I read was Erica Berry’s essay for True Story, “Beasts Among Us.” I’m obsessed with this mini-magazine from Creative Nonfiction. I’ve read eight of the 16 issues that have been published so far and have found them all to be that elusive combination of a page-turning story that offers smart insights into a topic you’d never before considered. Plus, they are small enough to fit into the pocket of your bag or backpack—I always have one on me. “Beasts Among Us” follows the author on a reporting trip to small-town Wisconsin, specifically an area with a high number of werewolf sightings, and asks what we gain when we open ourselves up to the possibility that mythical creatures are real. I cannot recommend True Story more highly—subscribe!

I'm listening to: The Dirty Projectors. I think I might be the last person in the world to discover this band. 

I'm watching: the second season of HBO's Westworld premieres tonight! We loved the first season for the emotional (and emotionally manipulative) performances and the plot twists, and it has been a long wait for these new episodes. Matt Zoller Seitz has a review up on Vulture that gives very little away, but seems positive! 

Enjoy posts like this one? Check out Brisket to read more about what's on my mind--just bring some bread to go with the meal!

The Week of Florida Weather in Pittsburgh (Finally)

On Friday temperatures climbed into the 70s and it's been balmy all weekend. I celebrated by doing nine loads of laundry. There is a washer and dryer in the basement of our apartment building, but we have to go outside to access it. The only thing worse than doing laundry is having to first carry your clothes through the freezing cold or the rain or the snow, even if it's only for 100 feet. So during the winter we do the bare minimum--work clothes and underwear only--and sheets and towels and other miscellaneous garments pile up. 

While I was tackling the mountain of laundry, I decided to try out the decluttering lessons I learned this week from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Per Marie Kondo's very specific instructions, I began with the category of clothing. I dumped out everything in my closet and dresser and purged three giant garbage bags worth of sweaters, pants, shirts, athletic gear, dresses, pajamas, undergarments, and accessories that no longer "spark joy." It was gratifying but exhausting, and I'm not even rid of everything yet. Tomorrow I'm going to have to call an Uber to shlep all this stuff to Goodwill. I posted some peeks into my dresser drawers on Brisket.

Before the laundry and decluttering marathon, I did manage to enjoy the weekend. I spent two hours yesterday morning laying in the sun in the park and reading. I brought veggies to snack on, and my yoga tune-up balls so I could give myself a little pressure point massage. It was heavenly.

Temperatures will dip again tomorrow, and there's snow forecasted on Tuesday. I'm hoping the vitamin D I absorbed this weekend will get me through to the next warm, sunny day. Fingers crossed.


Here's what captured my attention this week...

I'm reading: a lot of books at once, despite my effort to pare the list down from last week. I'm still working my way through Adrienne Rich's On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose, I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita, and Peniel Joseph's Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America. I finished Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood and Bone, which had a great ending but dragged through the middle. The characters made one too many stops on their quest, and the lusty side plot did not make the endless march across the magical land of Orîsha more tolerable (though I think if I read this as a teenager I would have vehemently disagreed). 

I also finished Marie Kondo's The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and started reading Thomas Mullen's Lightning Men. It's the sequel to Darktown, which I read last month and really enjoyed. Set in 1950, two years after Darktown, Lightning Men follows the same black police officers as they investigate a new murder/corruption case. Already I can tell that the Civil Rights Movement will play a bigger role in the sequel, which I definitely find more intriguing than the whodunnit. But I'm a historian. 

I'm listening to: Chelsea Jade, after someone compared her to Haim on Facebook.

I'm watching: Baba the Cosmic Barber's World's Greatest Head Massage. I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I've watched the video twice since discovering it earlier this week and it is so relaxing. What? How? Why? All valid questions. You'll just have to experience it for yourself.

Enjoy posts like this one? Check out Brisket to read more about what's on my mind--just bring some bread to go with the meal!