ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

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Wednesday

14

November 2018

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COMMENTS

“As Bad As a Root Canal” Isn’t That Bad … If You Have Insurance or Money

Written by , Posted in Adventures

My first memory of dental work was when I was five or six. I even recall my dentist’s name, although I’m not going to share it here. My teeth were starting to come in, and he could tell my bite would need some correction, so he pulled five baby teeth in an effort to get things moving. The numbing agent started wear off by the end of the fourth extraction, and he didn’t offer to top me up, so I had one tooth pulled with essentially no pain killers.

You can see why I wasn’t such a fan of dental work after that.

Unfortunately, I had five years of orthodontics ahead of me. Braces, neck gear, rubber bands, and finally retainers. On the plus side, I was free from all but the retainer before I hit junior high, so while I looked awkward in middle school, it wasn’t because I had a mouth full of metal (just some bad haircuts and poor fashion choices).

I’ve also always liked sweets, so I knew I had to take care of my teeth. I flossed — and still do floss — every single night. I brushed twice a day. And yet the cavities came. And then the crowns. And the root canals. We tried prescription toothpaste. I got sealants on my teeth. And yet for many years, I feared each visit to the dentist (which I dutifully scheduled every six months) because of the newest filling I would need.

When I moved back to Seattle, I found a new dentist. He fixed some crappy fillings I’d gotten in New York, and did his best to keep fillings from turning into crowns. It didn’t always work, but he tried. In fact, the only reason my most recent root canal happened yesterday and not a year ago is because my Seattle dentist worked hard to make some adjustments.

Every molar in my mouth has some sort of restoration. When I visited my new dentist in the UK and got some x-rays, I was reminded of how lucky I’ve been to have access to dental care my whole life.

And when I was referred for a root canal last week, I was reminded of how screwed up it is that dental care isn’t covered for adults in the US. Even when people over 21 or under 65 qualify for public health benefits, dental care isn’t covered. And I’ve seen first-hand what that means.

For the past five years, Seattle has hosted a public health clinic in the fall. Individuals can, at no cost, receive medical, dental, and vision care. People line up at midnight to be let into a holding area, where numbers are then distributed. Because dental and vision coverage are hard to get in the US without private coverage, individuals are limited to medical + dental or medical + vision for each visit. The floor of Key Arena is converted to a giant dental office, filled with chairs.

Photo by KUOW

I was able to work at two of the clinics, one time as a runner, and one time managing the waiting area for the dental floor. People who had been up all night waited hours longer to be seen by a dentist, then sent over for x-rays and referred to come back the next day for a cleaning, flippers (removable partial dentures), fillings, or extractions. People who have had infections, even abscesses, for who knows how long, grateful that someone is taking their dental health seriously.

It was heartening to see all the volunteer dentists and hygienists, but it was infuriating that it was necessary at all.

I’ve had root canals in New York, Seattle, and London. I can vividly recall the walk into the New York endodontist’s office; there was scaffolding up around the building. My union dental insurance covered the full cost, I believe. The second one, in London, was performed at the dental office associated with LSE, and I don’t believe I had to pay anything for it. And I had great dental insurance in Seattle, so if I had anything to pay then, it was maybe 10%. In each of those three cases, I either had dental insurance (US) or didn’t have income and so qualified for my costs to be covered (UK).

As I sat in the dentist’s chair last week, she talked through my options. I could pay a whole lot of money to go to a private endodontist who has excellent new equipment, a private endodontist with good equipment, or I could pay £60 and go to an NHS specialist. The wait would probably be awhile, and the equipment might not be as good. I chose one of the private options, but the fact that, if I didn’t have money, I could still have secured the care I needed, is a reminder of how the UK is light years ahead of the US in so many ways.

People in the US like to make fun of British teeth. The reality is, they aren’t obsessed with the appearance of teeth; they just want to make sure their residents get to keep their teeth. In the US, people get care if they have insurance, but if they don’t? Oh well. Never mind the concerns about impacts of things like gum disease on overall health. I find it absurd that dental and vision care aren’t automatically included in all health care in the US. Those are vital parts of our overall health.

Monday afternoon I arrived at the posh dental office. After a consultation, I signed some forms and they got down to work. Even in the 15 years between my first and most recent root canal, the technology has improved. I had almost no pain during the procedure, and some of the techniques she used kept my jaw from aching and kept over spill from the various drilling and equipment out of the rest of my mouth. Near the very end, the numbing agent did start to wear off, but even then it didn’t really hurt. After about 75 minutes she wrapped things up, I popped some ibuprofen, and headed home. I haven’t needed any painkillers since.

I know I’m lucky that I had the money to get the procedure done quickly. But even if I hadn’t, I still would have been able to get care thanks to the NHS dental system.

I’m sure that there are plenty of people in the UK who have had horrible NHS dental experiences, but at least they had access to some care. It’s literally the least a country can offer its residents.

Sunday

11

November 2018

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COMMENTS

What I’m Reading – November 11, 2018

Written by , Posted in What I'm Reading

US Elections

“This year we saw a high number of Black candidates running for office, especially Black women. They beat the odds against racist tactics targeted against them and the high claims of voter suppression and brought it home on election night.” These Are The Winning Black Candidates Of The Midterm Election (by Lorraine Haynes for Blavity)

“”When I showed up at the polling site near my house, I found that I had been kicked off the registered-voter roll,” Hill wrote. “A flurry of phone calls, and lots of head-nodding and ‘mmm-hmms’ from the supervisor of the polling site, failed to produce an explanation of why the system wasn’t showing me as a registered voter.” Hill was given a provisional ballot to use, and after voting, she began to investigate what had happened.” Jemele Hill Says Florida Officials Told Her She Couldn’t Vote Because Of A Tweet (by Ricky Riley for Blavity)

“Baltimore voters made history today by voting in favor of passing ballot question E, a city charter amendment that bans privatization of the city’s water and sewer systems. The Baltimore City Council voted unanimously to ban water privatization earlier this year. As of 11:15 p.m., Baltimore voters voted 77% in favor of this amendment with 91 percent of precincts reporting. This confirms Baltimore is now the first major city in the country to amend its charter to prohibit the sale and lease of the city’s water and sewer system.” (Food and Water Watch)

Horrific Trump Administration Actions

“The birth control rules endanger the care of more than 55 million cisgender women and an uncertain number of trans and nonbinary people who depend on getting no co-pay contraceptive care through the ACA. While the birth control benefit already allowed for religious exemptions, the Trump administration has sought to further meet the demands of the religious right, which believes the previous exemption isn’t broad enough.” Trump Administration Moves to Restrict Birth Control Benefit and Abortion in Post-Midterm Attack (by Katelyn Burns for Rewire)

“Mr Trump has signed a proclamation barring migrants who enter illegally from asylum for up to 90 days. The president can stop migration in the “national interest”, a statement said. Rights groups say it is illegal and have launched a legal challenge.” US proposes rule banning asylum for illegal migrants (BBC)

“It’s not hard to find the common denominator: Though there’s hardly anyone — from his predecessors to senators in his own party — he won’t try to shout down with ad hominem insults, Trump relishes, and injects venom into, verbal attacks against women of color.” April Ryan: I’m a black woman. Trump loves insulting people like me. (by April Ryan for Washington Post)

Poppies

“In his statement, Matic said: “I recognise fully why people wear poppies, I totally respect everyone’s right to do so and I have total sympathy for anyone who has lost loved ones due to conflict. “However, for me it is only a reminder of an attack that I felt personally as a young, frightened 12-year old boy living in Vrelo, as my country was devastated by the bombing of Serbia in 1999.” Nemanja Matic: Man Utd midfielder explains why he will not wear poppy (BBC)

Mass Shootings

“Many of those who died were young, in their 20s. There was a college freshman and a graduate who had received his degree in May. There was the bar’s sunny cashier. And two friends who loved souping up old trucks for off-roading. Among the others were a longtime sheriff’s deputy who had rushed into the crowded bar to help and a 22-year-old patron whose friends said he had tried to help others escape, yelling, “Everyone, run!”” The Thousand Oaks Shooting Victims: These Are Their Stories (New York Times)

Labor

“But a new paper by the same authors (Sci-Hub mirror) shows that the rising minimum wage generated major increases for the workers who had the most hours, whose hours were only cut a little, but still came out ahead thanks to the wage increase; workers with fewer hours saw no financial harm from the rising minimum wage, working fewer hours and bringing home the same sum; and they found some harm to people who had the smallest number of hours) (which may actually reflect stronger demand for workers and fewer workers in this category of very-low-hour work).” Economists reverse claims that $15 Seattle minimum wage hurt workers, admit it was largely beneficial (by Cory Doctorow for Boing Boing)

Saturday

10

November 2018

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COMMENTS

No Is Not Enough by Naomi Klein

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for: People still looking for answers to how we got here (i.e. got Trump) and some thoughts on ways to move forward.

In a nutshell: Trump’s election shouldn’t have been a surprise, and it doesn’t need to be the end of the world.

Worth quoting:
“If the goal is to move from a society based on endless taking and depletion to one based on caretaking and renewal, then all of our relationships have to be grounded in those same principles of reciprocity and care.”

Why I chose it: I keep looking for books to help me figure out a good way forward, and Junebug’s review suggested it’d be a good one. And it was, mostly.

Review:
I feel like there are two books here: a history book and a how-to book. And while the tag lines and blurbs are promoting the latter, the vast majority of it feels like the former to me. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I just feel like lately I’m reading a whole lot of build up and not a lot of “now do this.” It’s especially frustrating when some of the things she warns us about not only happened but were way worse. I spent a fair amount of time in the first chunk saying “Oh honey, past you was a bit off, and not in a positive direction.”

That’s not to say there aren’t things in here that I learned. There’s a lot about US and world history I know nothing about, and haven’t sat with to connect all the dots, and to that end I think Ms. Klein does a mostly good job. However, at times it felt like a book that was trying to fit as much relevant information as possible without the best through-line. It could have benefited from some stronger editing and perhaps reorganization, though I appreciate she was trying to get this book out quickly as the Trump administration continued rolling over human and civil rights ad the environment.

The very last bit of the book focuses on options for going forward, but even there it feels a little … insufficient. She talks about the Leap Manifesto she was a part of putting together in Canada, but there isn’t a lot of how to try to reproduce that in the US or even within a state in the US.

I think I just want to know what to do. Does that make sense? And that’s a lot to put onto any author — or anyone, really — but at this point I’m tired of the history, at least the parts I’ve lived through. And that’s why for me this book is only three stars.

Sunday

4

November 2018

0

COMMENTS

What I’m Reading – November 4, 2018

Written by , Posted in What I'm Reading

Horrific Actions by the US Government

“There is absolutely nothing special about this particular caravan except for it happening during a midterm election season so Republicans can press the racist panic button that works so well among its base of good, wholesome Christians who skipped all those parts of The Bible about helping refugees like Jesus helping the poor and other commie shit.” Trump Deploys 5,200 More Troops to Stop Migrant Caravan Because Racist Red Meat, Baby, Get Some (by Mike Redmond for Pajiba)

Sports

“I’m sure there will be people out there who will judge us harshly for opting out — who will say that we should be grateful for what we already have. They’ll probably tell us that our league is losing money. They’ll say it’s just “economics.” They’ll say it’s just “fair.” And they’ll definitely, definitely tell me that they can beat me one on one. To me, opting out means not just believing in ourselves, but going one step further: betting on ourselves. It means being a group of empowered women, in the year 2018, not just feeling fed up with the status quo, but going one step further: rejecting the status quo. And it means taking a stand, not just for the greatest women’s basketball players of today, but going one step further: taking a stand for the greatest women’s basketball players of tomorrow.” Bet on Women (by Nneka Ogwumike for The Players’ Tribune)

“If the repercussions of producing agitprop for a theocratic monarchy were considered at WWE headquarters, it likely wasn’t seriously. The easiest explanation for that, besides just greed, is a fairly simple one: While mainstream coverage of WWE and professional wrestling in general has steadily increased over the last seven or eight years, thanks to more fans in editorial roles at news organizations (especially sports and pop culture websites) and a history of reliably bringing in page views, critical coverage of the sport hasn’t boomed at the same level. It’s not as bad as it was when, in 1992, during a Donahue episode about sexual abuse and harassment allegations within WWE, an audience member expressed confusion at what everyone was worked up about since wrestling is “fake.” But pro wrestling is still a niche entertainment product, which means less outside scrutiny, even at a time when WWE is more financially successful than ever.” Why Is WWE Creating Propaganda for Saudi Arabia? (by David Bixenspan for The Nation)

Racism

“To be a journalist of colour can be to walk a tightrope. On which issues do you weigh in? On which issues do you not? What do you pretend you didn’t see or hear? When that isn’t possible to what do you cowardly chuckle along? The world has gotten uglier in recent years — I wasn’t exactly thrilled with how we were doing on race before that — and for me it has become more difficult to let things slide.” Journalism While Brown and When to Walk Away (by Sunny Dhillon on Medium)

Sexism

“Demonstrations at the company’s offices around the world began at 11.10am in Tokyo and took place at the same time in other time zones. They follow allegations of sexual misconduct made against senior executives, which organisers say are the most high-profile examples of “thousands” of similar cases across the company.” Google walkout: global protests after sexual misconduct allegations (by Matthew Weaver, Alex Hern, Victoria Bekiempis, Lauren Hepler, and Jose Fermoso for The Guardian)

Monday

29

October 2018

0

COMMENTS

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for: Anyone interested in a beautifully written memoir that explores adoption, transracial adoption, race, and family.

In a nutshell: Author Nicole Chung was born to Korean parents in the US and adopted by a white couple. In this book, she explores what it meant to be one of the only Asian people around growing up, as well as how she connected with some of her birth family.

Worth quoting:
“People were not so simple; people could be and think and want many different things at once.”

Why I chose it:
I’ve seen so many people online raving about it.

Review:
This is a lovely book. When thinking about words that could describe it, I could also have gone with powerful, honest, or insightful. But I chose lovely because the writing is just that, as is the way the author handles complex and complicated issues.

Nicole Chung was born two months premature to parents who had moved to the US from Korea just five years prior to her birth. They already had one child together; they chose to place Ms. Chung up for adoption, but not through what we would probably think of as regular channels (i.e., an agency). Instead, someone working in the hospital knows the couple who would become Ms. Chung’s adoptive parents and alerts them to this possibility.

Ms. Chung is raised in the pacific northwest, in a part of Oregon with very few other Asian individuals. Her parents are always open about the fact of her adoption, but they don’t take steps to help Ms. Chung learn about her Korean heritage, and she doesn’t not pursue it independently much until she reaches college. Once she is married, she decides to see if she can get in touch with her birth family, motivated further when she learns that she may have a sister.

This book explores one story, and it is not claiming to be universal, but still, the issues it addresses can apply to so many of us, I think. There are obviously some specifics (e.g. the reality of transracial adoption) that may only be directly relatable to similarly situated individuals, but the overall concepts of belonging and family, about other possible life scenarios, about whether a choice was the best one (and if that is even the right question to ask), about how our families influence who we become, and even about nature vs. nurture, they all take up space here. I’ll be thinking about this one long after I pick up my next read.

Sunday

28

October 2018

0

COMMENTS

What I’m Reading – October 28, 2018

Written by , Posted in What I'm Reading

Back in London, where Fall has already maybe turned into Winter?

Right-Wing Domestic Terrorism

“Wednesday, a white man with a history of violence shot and killed two African-Americans, seemingly at random, at a Kentucky Kroger store following a failed attempt to barge into a black church. After mail bombs were being sent to people who’d been criticized by the President, a suspect was arrested Friday — a man who had railed against Democrats and minorities with hate-filled messages online. And Saturday morning, a man shouting anti-Semitic slurs opened fire at a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11 people attending Jewish services.” 72 hours in America: Three hate-filled crimes. Three hate-filled suspects. (by Ray Sanchez and Melissa Gray for CNN)

Disenfranchisement

“Lawyers for two voting rights advocacy groups asked a federal judge on Tuesday to force Georgia election officials to stop rejecting absentee ballots without giving voters any advance notice that their ballot has been rejected, and without giving voters an opportunity to appeal the rejection. Today, that federal judge will hear arguments from those election officials about just why they think certain people—namely, Black and Asian people—are especially worthy of suspicion when it comes to sending in their vote by mail.” Untrained Georgia Election Officials Are Stripping People of Their Right to Vote Based on Their Signatures (Updated) (by Imani Gandy for Rewire)

“What Uncle Bob fails to understand is that a lot of people don’t have a photo ID because they don’t need it. There are people who don’t drive. People who don’t have bank accounts and simply get their checks cashed by the dude who runs the local market down the street. People who live in small towns where everybody knows their name and they’ve never had a reason to get a photo ID. People who used to have a driver’s license, but it expired and they don’t have the money or time to get a new one. Homeless people who have nowhere to lay their head, much less the ability to make it to a government office to get a photo ID, and even if they got one, the police would probably just confiscate all of their shit anyway because they think homeless people should be neither seen nor heard.” Well Actually, It’s Pretty Hard for Some People to Get a Photo ID So They Can Vote (by Imani Gandi for Rewire)

Racism

“He also shouts at her: “Don’t talk to me in a foreign language, you stupid ugly cow.” After a flight attendant intervenes, the woman says she wants to sit with her daughter and tells the man he “stinks”. She says of the passenger: “Kick him out”. Her daughter has told The Huffington Post the row started because her mother, 77, has arthritis and it took some time for her to move out of the way for the man to get into his seat.” Ryanair flight: ‘Racial abuse passenger’ referred to police (BBC) [Side note: Ryanair continues to be a trash airline)

Reproductive Justice

“The new rules threaten the contraceptive care of more than 55 million cisgender women and an uncertain number of trans and non-binary people who depend on birth control with no co-pay through the ACA. While the birth control benefit already allowed for religious exemptions, the Trump administration has sought to further meet the demands of the religious right, which believes the exemption isn’t broad enough.” Trump Administration Moves to Finalize Rules Upending Birth Control Benefit (by Katelyn Burns for Rewire)

Tenants

“Today, VICE can exclusively reveal that these government funds to crack down on bad landlords were used to pay for dawn raids by police and border officials on vulnerable tenants. Hundreds of them were then evicted, arrested or deported.” Exclusive: Government Money to Tackle Rogue Landlords Is Being Used to Arrest Tenants (by Dan Hancox for Vice)

Misogyny

“Committee chairwoman Maria Miller said: “Women feel the onus is put on them to avoid ‘risky’ situations – all of this keeps women and girls unequal.” The report concluded that social attitudes underpinned sexual harassment, and the normalisation of it contributed to a “wider negative cultural effect on society”. And while the government has pledged to eliminate sexual harassment of women and girls by 2030, the committee said there was “no evidence of any programme to achieve this”.” Street harassment ‘relentless’ for women and girls (BBC)

Brexit

“The People’s Vote campaign said stewards on the route estimated 700,000 were taking part. The Metropolitan Police said it was not able to estimate the size of the crowd. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan – who started the march – was among those who addressed Parliament Square, along with representatives from the main political parties. Celebrity speakers included Steve Coogan, Delia Smith and Deborah Meaden.” People’s Vote march: Hundreds of thousands attend London protest (BBC)

Gender Identity

“For these reasons and more, we intend to work with our public health partners to strenuously oppose the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) considering an interpretation of Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans sex discrimination in federally funded schools, that “would define sex as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with.” This proposal goes against biological and medical science and harms individual and public health.” A Message to the Transgender Members of Our Families, Our Communities and Our Workforce (by Dr. Jeff Duchin for Public Health Insider)

“Several recent studies suggest that trans people’s brain patterns match their gender identities, regardless of genitalia. The most recent study was presented at the European Society of Endocrinology’s annual meeting in May. According to the press release, Dr. Julie Bakker of the University of Liège, Belgium, and her colleagues used MRIs to scan the brains of several transgender adolescents, specifically looking at reactions to “a pheromone known to produce gender-specific activity.” The researchers found that the brain patterns in the trans youth closely resembled their cisgender counterparts’. In other words, the research found that both cis and trans boys have some similar brain patterns, despite being born with different genitalia, and the same goes for both cis and trans girls. “Although more research is needed, we now have evidence that sexual differentiation of the brain differs in young people with [gender dysphoria],” says Dr. Bakker, “as they show functional brain characteristics that are typical of their desired gender.”” Why ‘Genetic Testing’ for Gender Is Dangerous Pseudoscience (by Tris Mamone for Rewire)

Silicon Valley Hypocrisy

“The fear of screens has reached the level of panic in Silicon Valley. Vigilantes now post photos to parenting message boards of possible nannies using cellphones near children. Which is to say, the very people building these glowing hyper-stimulating portals have become increasingly terrified of them. And it has put their nannies in a strange position. “In the last year everything has changed,” said Shannon Zimmerman, a nanny in San Jose who works for families that ban screen time. “Parents are now much more aware of the tech they’re giving their kids. Now it’s like, ‘Oh no, reel it back, reel it back.’ Now the parents will say ‘No screen time at all.’”” Silicon Valley Nannies Are Phone Police for Kids (by Nellie Bowles for the New York Times)

Criminal Punishment System

“On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors approved a motion that will end this practice in Los Angeles County, effectively erasing nearly $90 million worth of debt held by juvenile offenders, their parents and their guardians across 52,000 accounts. The motion, authored by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Janice Hahn, is aimed at helping Californians who have been involved in the juvenile justice system get back on their feet.” Los Angeles will wipe out nearly $90 million worth of debt incurred by juvenile offenders (by Abigail Hess for CNBC)

Something Good

“”These are shows that I would watch,” she says. “To me, these are the funniest shows on TV. And it’s insane, and I feel so incredibly lucky that I get to be a part of them. As an actor, I just want to work. I would have been happy in many places. But this is sort of the ultimate happy because it’s something that I’m such a fan of.”” New Gay Icon: D’Arcy Carden Talks Janet, Sexual Fluidity, and Queer Eye (by Glenn Garner for Out)

Saturday

27

October 2018

0

COMMENTS

Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for: Everyone. All of us should read it.

In a nutshell: In the future, firemen don’t put out fires – they set them. Specifically, they set books on fire.

Worth quoting:
“You weren’t hurting anyone, you were hurting only things! And since things really couldn’t be hurt, sine things felt nothing, and things don’t scream or whimper … there was nothing to tease your conscience later.”
“We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal.”

Why I chose it:
I figured I’d take the opportunity to finally read this book. I can’t believe I haven’t read it.

Review:
Oh holy shit. This was written in 1953. SIXTY FIVE YEARS AGO. And yet it is super relevant today. Damn, that’s depressing.

This is an extremely quick read. I started it yesterday and ended it yesterday. It takes place over just about a week (or less) in time at some point, in some place, in the US. People don’t read anymore because they aren’t allowed to. Books are banned, and firemen (I’d normally say firefighter because gender neutral, but that literally doesn’t work here) respond to people tattling on their neighbors who are suspected to have books. Because books aren’t necessary — the stories and ideas in them conflict with each other, and that can lead to harm, so it’s better to just watch stories with no plot that take up the entire living room, work a few hours pushing buttons or making widgets, and fall asleep with earbuds in playing pleasing music.

As someone who loves books, this was hard to read. But beyond that, the idea of government telling us that we aren’t allowed to read anything, a government that seems only interested in pleasure, but superficial pleasure. And look, I loves me some superficial pleasure. But for me, that’s not the only purpose in life. And in this version of the US, that’s the only goal. That’s all people look for.

I think what hit me the hardest was the discussion about how people slowly stopped registering for liberal arts courses (drama was the main example) until such colleges simply shut down, and people were only taught to push buttons and manufacture things. I see in that a bit of the push to move EVERYONE to STEM education. I 100% want people who haven’t felt supported in pursuing a STEM education and career to have access to it, and I don’t think we’re there yet. At the same, I see people slamming liberal arts degrees — things like philosophy, sociology, women’s studies, literature — as useless. You should get a degree in engineering, not history! And I think that is such a dangerous way of looking at things. There’s value in it all, and there’s definitely value in the ability to think critically. One can obviously learn to think critically without being a philosophy major (or going to college at all), but books and other ways to access discussion and knowledge are necessary.

The ending feels a little abrupt, but that’s okay. I’d recommend this to everyone, if only as a reminder of where things could go, and the dangers that accompany that.

Thursday

25

October 2018

0

COMMENTS

Sadie by Courtney Summers

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for: Anyone who listens to long-form storytelling podcasts; anyone who appreciates good storytelling; anyone who can stomach a book with some really disturbing parts.

In a nutshell: Nineteen-year-old Sadie has gone missing, and its possible that it has something to do with the recent death of her 13-year-old sister. Her surrogate grandmother contacts an NPR-type radio station to see if one of their journalists can help find Sadie. (Ignore the tag-line on the cover though — it doesn’t do the plot justice.)

Worth quoting:
“I always forget fear is a conquerable thing but I learn it over and over again and that, I guess, is better than never learning it.”

Why I chose it:
I was at the independent bookshop in the town I grew up in and asked if they had Rebecca Traister’s new book Good and Mad. They didn’t, but the bookseller did say that if I’m interested in female rage, she had a suggestion for me. She wasn’t wrong.

Review:
This book is fantastic, but right up front I need to say that it deals with a REAL dark topic. Sadie is looking for Keith, who was her mother’s boyfriend for a while when she was 11 or 12. Very quickly we learn that Keith has done something to earn Sadie’s wrath, and frankly, it’s really not good. And this is a YA book. Jesus.

The story unfolds in a couple of ways: through a season one Serial-style podcast exploring Sadie’s disappearance, and through point of view chapters Sadie. They alternate, with the slowly catching up to Sadie’s story. So we’ll often get the podcast exploring things that we already know a little of, which makes it that much more compelling. Like, I know what’s already happened. You’ve got to work harder at figuring it out, West McCray (the podcast creator)!

The podcast sections are brilliant. The first episode starts with the fact that there is a theme song for it. That alone was just an excellent touch. And by the fourth episode, the first line is always “The Girls is brought to you by Macmillan Publishers.” Like, of course it eventually has a sponsor. It has to make money somehow. But seeing it written out (as opposed to, say, skipping through that week’s Hello Fresh or Casper Mattress ad read) illuminates how absurd it is. The story of the murder of one sister and the disappearance of another has a sponsor. Yikes.

Plus they way the podcast episodes are written – I could hear them. Of course, I first thought the host was a woman, so I was literally hearing Sarah Koenig as I read it, and had to adjust later on. (What? West is a gender-neutral name.) Then there are the descriptions of different conversations, like the host on the phone with his producer, or interviewing someone in person, or doing their voice-over in studio. I listen to many podcasts (The Dream is my current favorite).

By interspersing the podcast episodes with perspective chapters from Sadie, seeing what she’s going through, her trauma, her pain, her determination, it’s a reminder that these podcasts are about real people. Sometimes they’re historical, with the individuals long-dead. But so many of them are about real people, with family and lives. I keep referencing Serial, but I think this is a bit different from that, because, for all they may have tried, that was more about the accused murderer than the victim, and I don’t think Hae Min Lee’s family was happy about it, whereas in this book, Sadie’s family is explicitly asking for help.

Sadie is an interesting character. She’s from a dying town, and spends her whole life until the story picks up living in a trailer. She cares for her sister after their mother — who has a substance use disorder — leaves them. She doesn’t see much a future for herself, and is fueled mostly by her sister’s murder. It’s heartbreaking, the moments when you see that Sadie could have had a different life. Not dramatically different, but there are so many what-ifs: What if her mother had stayed? What if her mother hadn’t favored her younger sister? What if her sister hadn’t been murdered?

There are a lot of cliffhangers – nearly every Sadie chapter ends with an “oh shit,” then the next chapter is a podcast episode. It makes it so hard to stop reading; I was up until about 11 reading it last night, and just finished it this evening. The end had be processing a whole shitload of emotions.

I don’t read much YA unless it’s so popular that it’s about to / has already become a movie (So, basically The Hunger Games, The Hate U Give, The Fault in Our Stars). I’m just not in the know, and so usually I need someone to make a recommendation. This book is also a YA murder mystery, so yeah, not really one that would normally be on my list.

But damn, I’m thankful to the bookseller who recommended it. Female rage indeed.

Thursday

25

October 2018

2

COMMENTS

Twenty Years

Written by , Posted in Adventures

My time in high school was absolutely fine. It wasn’t traumatic in any specific or unique way; I did well academically, I had some good friends, I had extracurricular activities (choir, mostly) that I loved. By senior year, I even had a boyfriend who I would continue to date throughout most of college. I wasn’t popular, but I wasn’t unpopular, either. I just existed, mostly happily. Sure, there were the typical issues that come up within friend groups — some bickering, some un-returned crushes — but overall, I was happy enough.

I share this because I think my 20-year high school reunion experience is completely colored by my high school experience. Someone who hated high school, or someone who loved every minute and still considers it the best four years of their lives will likely have a different take.

My ten-year high school reunion was fine. I went with a couple of girlfriends, but I don’t remember seeing that many people who I wasn’t already in touch with. I do recall that one person brought a newborn, and that someone (I cannot for the life of me remember who) offered me a swig from a flask in the ladies room (which I took, obviously). But no one ended the night in an incinerator.

Last year, a Facebook group popped up to get people thinking about our 20-year high school reunion, and people posted updates on their lives. This was before we moved to London, so I mentioned we were living in Seattle with our cats, and also that I invented post-it notes. A couple people commented, getting the joke. Others were married or weren’t, had kids or didn’t, lived in the area or didn’t, had successful jobs or were taking care of their home. Nothing totally out of the ordinary. One person is moderately famous, and they posted in the group and seem to still be very nice, so that’s kind of cool.

Once Austin and I decided to move to London, I realized the reunion was at the perfect time for us to coordinate a visit. See our family, go to the reunion, pop up to Seattle and visit friends.

As the reunion approached, I checked the list of attendees and realized I didn’t recognize most of the names. My graduating class had over 400 people in it, and maybe two of the people who had RSVPd by then were people I would have considered friends while we were in high school. I recognized a few names, but some were just … brand new to me. The girlfriends I’d gone to the ten-year reunion with weren’t coming this time, and I started to wonder exactly why I was doing this.

(I’m still not entirely sure.)

The evening arrived, and I was nervous in a way I haven’t really been before. Austin gave me a little pep talk as we walked to the venue, which I didn’t realize I needed. Was I worried about what people would think of me? I don’t think so. I was actually more just anxious that there was no reason for me to be there.

With Facebook, it’s pretty easy to stay in touch with the people you want to stay in touch with. Even though I deleted my account for the summer, in the month that I’d been back I’d found a lot of the people who I’d be interested in meeting up with solo (as is my rule for Facebook friendship). It seems to me that part of the fun of reunions in the past was seeing people one had lost touch with but wanted to connect with. These days, it’s hard to stay disconnected even if one wants to.

But I was wrong. So, so wrong. I had a weirdly fun time. Part of the fun was indeed connecting with people who I’d lost touch with but still enjoyed catching up with (more on that later), but part of it was the utter bizarreness of being in a room with a lot of people that I recognized but just genuinely don’t need to be around. I don’t have good or bad feelings towards them (I mean, I hope they’re happy and kind people, but they aren’t ever on my mind.) We shared four years of our lives, sort of, and then went off into the world, and it all felt both the same and totally different.

It didn’t actually matter whether I interacted with any of the people who hadn’t been my friends. Once I’d chatted with four or five people (including my choir teacher, which was a delightful surprise) I could leave the restaurant at any time. It almost felt like a sociological or anthropological study.

There were some odd components. We were all wearing name tags with our senior photos on them, so people would walk by, look at the tag, and determine whether they wanted to stop and say hi. Also, the drinks were super strong, and there was not a lot of food, so folks got tipsy REAL quick.

So, the women: they all looked and seemed lovely. My mother has a theory that women who aren’t feeling like they look their best won’t show up, and maybe that’s the case, but every single lady at the reunion looked happy and healthy. It was great to see. I have no idea how any of them are in their personal lives (my guess is that many of them hold political beliefs that I would not be okay with, given where many of them live), but in the two+ hours we were around each other, they all seemed fine.

But some of the men: oh buddies.

The entire evening was surreal. I just kept looking around, thinking about how odd it is that 20 years have passed and most of these people seem … exactly the same. And maybe I do too. Some extra pounds, a bunch of tattoos, a couple of piercings, a fucking awesome husband, but I think the essential ‘me’ is the same.

Which leads me to the best part of the night: seeing some old friends. There are a few people who I’ve lost touch with but who were close friends during high school. We hung out near the F wing of school, and were a bit Freaks and Geeks ish. The guys were in a band (as was I, for a hot minute — I played guitar and the only song we played was Free Fallin’). There was a lot of talk of Star Wars. By the time I was a junior, I spent more of my time with friends from choir, but I have great memories of hanging out with the F wing folks.

And that night, I got to catch up with some of those folks, and it was fantastic. Guys who were kind, sweet, and funny teenagers grew into kind, sweet, and funny adults. They all have kids, and many have partners, but they haven’t grown into adult assholes. My memories of them are not false – I did have good friends there, and they were good people. I’ve found a few of them on Facebook again, and look forward to seeing pictures and reading updates about their lives.

I’m happy I went, for sure. It was a trip, and worth it for the conversations I had. Not sure if I’ll go to my 30th (unless Jen and Kelly promise to go with me again), but who knows. Maybe.

Wednesday

24

October 2018

0

COMMENTS

Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay by Phoebe Robinson

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for: People who like personal essays and also Ms. Robinson’s style of humor (e.g., loads of hashtags)

In a nutshell: In the follow-up to her first collection of essays, Ms. Robinson shares more of the serious aspects of her personal life (including her financial challenges, her experience with interracial relationships, and the failures of feminism) while also telling hilarious stories about meeting Oprah and Bono (not at the same time, but could you even imagine?).

Worth quoting:
“I am also a ludicrous trash fire like the kind you see on Naked and Afraid when people sign up to be in the wilderness when they’re barely capable of troubleshooting Mozilla Firefox, let alone making an actual fire from scratch.”

Why I chose it:
I enjoyed Ms. Robinson’s first book, and this one looked pretty great.

Review:
I have to admit that I don’t listen to 2 Dope Queens anymore. It sort of fell out of rotation for me, mostly because some of the stand-up acts were just not my thing, and it’s hard to figure out how to fast-forward the right amount on a podcast. But that doesn’t mean I stopped enjoying Jessica Williams or Phoebe Robinson. So when I saw Ms. Robinson had a follow-up book out, I knew I wanted to read it.

I laughed a lot while reading this book. Not on every page, but definitely each essay — including the more serious ones — offered something to crack up about. I think her style may not be for everyone, as she tends to employ a lot of ridiculous abbreviations and beyond long hashtags, but for me, it works.

While the book focuses on some things that are indeed trash, I also really enjoyed the sections where Ms. Robinson focuses on what’s gone well in her life. It doesn’t feel like bragging; it’s just more fun to read about the good things. I’m genuinely happy for her.

That said, the serious chapters are well done. The essay on feminism is a great look at the ways women of color often don’t feel supported by white women, and her vulnerability when discussing her financial troubles is relatable to the point that I think it could genuinely help some similarly situated folks.

If you like Ms. Robinson, I think you’ll enjoy this book.