Give thanks.

​Perhaps it’s just affecting me more these days, making me more inclined to notice, or perhaps I’m perceiving things pretty close to how they are, but it seems that the last month or so has been particularly violent, even by modern standards. It’s something I’ve written about here before, and I hate to think that I sound like I have nothing else to say; but lately, each time there’s an attack or a shooting, I feel it more than I used to. And along with that, I feel the urge to say something, to bear witness.

protests late last year, from the Minneapolis Star Tribune
Along with the violence, the past year seems to have been a period of great unrest. This fall, like much of the past 16 months since the death of Michael Brown, has brought about a lot of meaningful discussion about how this country functions, where it’s headed, and the wide gap in how people with different skin colors experience life here. Protestors have marched and chanted in cities, on freeways, at colleges, and around police departments and city halls that seemed to be failing their people. For a lot of Americans, it’s been eye-opening, although not always to what they would like to see.

Some would call this progress; some would call it a nuisance.

Those who would use the latter term have responded to these public dialogues in myriad ways, from Facebook rants to counter-protests. In a few sad cases, they’ve resorted to violence, like those cowardly few in Minnesota who took direct aim at peaceful protestors for daring to raise their voices against the ideology of white supremacy.

A little over 150 years ago, Abraham Lincoln declared that from then on, the last Thursday in November would be set aside as a national day of thanksgiving. He hoped it would help to heal a broken nation, one that was writhing and clawing and killing its sons over the question of slavery, which was really a question about the value of black lives. It’s tragic that so many years later, we’re still trying to figure it out.


news & updates.

I’m almost done with applications, which means I almost have my life back! actual news to follow.


read this.

On Pandering. So the downside to letting this newsletter go until this week is that this essay came out a week ago and you may have already seen it. But it deserves the top slot anyway. A brilliant reflection from one of my favorite writers on what it’s like being a woman and a writer, becoming a mother, being pandered to by Stephen Elliott/old white male professors/the world, and “burn[ing] this motherfucking system to the ground and build[ing] something better.”

Fiction tells a truth that history cannot.

A brief history of the GED, recent radical changes to the test, and second chances in America.

On going and coming. It’s rare that I link to anything on Buzzfeed, but this was really, really good.

The person next to you on the plane. Brilliant essay on the choices we make, the different lives people live, and the secret lives of strangers.

Confessions of a housekeeper: coming clean about the secrets she discovered wiping up the messes of the rich, and what she learned from them about what it really means to live well.

Donald Trump is possibly the only presidential candidate who could retweet racist graphics made by actual neo-Nazis and get away with it.

But actually, how the hell does Trump get away with all this? Jay Rosen attempts an explanation.

The sad saga of the clock kid continues.

Looking for Raymond Chandler’s LA.

The World According to ISIS; A Satire.

Quiz Time! British culinary specialty, or twee slang for STD symptom?


fic pick.

“Milk.”


watch this.

Mirror. A collaboration between The New Yorker and This American Life (I will freely admit that I eat this shit up, but it’s a pretty good story, and how many creative nonfiction animated shorts do you see?).


listen to this.

“November.” Ok so technically it’s December now, but whatever, you’ll be fine.


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St. Roch Blues

To be honest, I don’t have much to say this week. The last few weeks have been some of the most violent and troubling in recent memory, and without being there, there isn’t a lot I feel like I can contribute (some of the protesting in Missouri gave me an idea for a short story, but that’s another conversation).

Unfortunately, it seems like it’s also these times of unrest when so many people have a response before they’ve made any attempt at understanding. And while I appreciate the passion for politics, a lot of the fiery Facebook posts have served to reaffirm one of my longest-held beliefs: that sometimes, it’s better to listen first.

Even though this is a very minor write-up (would you call these essays? they seem too short to me, but they kind of have that vibe… maybe essayette? [essay+vignette]), the good news is that the past week or two have been really rich story-wise, so I hope you’ll check out some of the links below.


read this.

In which Bloomingdale’s pretty explicitly condones date rape.

When conservatives are the ones arguing for PC speech on campus.

Suicide clusters are extraordinarily sad, but also extraordinarily rare. Silicon Valley is in the midst of something like an epidemic.

San Antonio police officers were pursuing a felon when they lost his trail. A short while later, they encountered a different man taking pictures for his wife’s business; he’s also Latino, and the police mistook him for the suspect. They beat him to a pulp on the sidewalk, and now he’s paralyzed.

On leaving New York for Pittsburgh.

Ok so this was a while ago but a piece on Rand Paul having at the other candidates in the last debate.

An explainer on the noise about Starbucks’s cups.

How tech elites are promoting their companies as saviors of the middle class.

Is your baby an asshole?

Adults who’ve given up religion sometimes face a serious dilemma when they have kids: “Why hold a child hostage to my doubts?”

What art has taught me about life. (story’s not spectacular, but I love this guy’s drawings)

In which The Onion accurately predicted just about everything that would happen in the Middle East between 2003 and today.

A hate crime at Harvard.

Fact-checking Trump.

Losing God in divinity school. (so I’m not entirely sure what I think of this one, but I’m throwing it in anyway in case anyone would like to discuss. lemme know)


book club.

this section has been missing for some time, but I thought it ought to go in this time because I just finished a book that I can’t stop talking about. If you pay attention to what’s going on in the book world, then there’s a decent chance you’ve already heard of Anthony Marra’s The Tsar of Love and Techno. If not, consider this your unequivocal gushing recommendation that you go get a copy. Also if anyone else has read it and has thoughts they want to share, again, let me know.


fic pick.

I was serious, you should go read that book. Somebody illustrated one of the stories, The Grozny Tourist Bureau, which you can check out for free. It’s brilliant writing, and a gorgeous story.


listen to this.

St. Roch Blues – Hurray for the Riff Raff has become one of my favorite bands this past year, and I was fortunate enough to go see ’em last weekend over in Oakland! This one features members of another great band, The Deslondes, and is about losing friends to gun violence–sadly appropriate given the shootings in New Orleans, and all the other violence around the world. Give it a listen.


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The End.

Wonder.

I probably spend too much time pondering what I want to write in here each week. Oftentimes that’s a good thing. I think it forces me to be a little more present from week to week, to focus on what’s happening to me and reflect on it, rather than allowing one week to fade into the next. Only 24, and I already have some sense of how easy it would be for months, or even years, to just slip by and disappear.

(This will be relevant in a minute,* but I have to put the photo this early in the text for it to show up later on with the link. Sorry for the confusion.)

Some weeks are full of potential material, while some are a little more scarce. Last week seemed to be one of the good ones. I’d been sick for more than a week, and considered writing about how that always seems to make the trivialities of daily life into major ordeals. Another development from the past few weeks has been the discovery of roaches living under our oven. At first there was just a little one, then they got bigger, and now… I wouldn’t call it an infestation, but it is a problem. So is, somehow, finding a store anywhere near here that sells roach traps (don’t worry Dad, I got some). And then there were the elections. I haven’t been a San Francisco resident very long, but a few of the propositions that came up on last week’s ballot mattered a lot, so I thought it seemed important to read up on the measures and go vote; 70% of the city, however, didn’t. It’s naturally disappointing when a vote doesn’t go the way you’d like, but when that’s compounded by exorbitant rates of voter apathy, it induces a sort of democratic despair. And then on top of my general disillusionment, work has been more stressful than usual, and grad school applications are feeling overwhelming–I’ve been preparing like crazy, but I can’t help but feel like there’s so much more to do, and then so much that’s outside my control.

 

Against my better judgement, at the last minute I agreed to go along on a hastily-planned 36-hour trip to Yosemite. It’d eat up the better part of a weekend (a precious resource in application season), but with winter approaching, it also looked to be my last chance to go before next spring. We packed up the car at a little past 6 on Saturday morning, and headed for the mountains.

There’s not much to see until you’re almost to the park, when the flat fields of California’s Central Valley give way to rocky outcroppings and thick pine forests. Once you’re inside, you spend a while winding through the trees, until suddenly it opens up, and you’re there: Yosemite Valley.*

To be there is to understand what’s beautiful about the world. Jagged rock faces tower thousands of feet above the forest floor. Yosemite Falls splashes down from dizzying heights in a rainbow-tinted mist. A few trees, leafless and scraggly, form lonely silhouettes up on top of the snow-covered peaks.

It’s the kind of place that can rejuvenate the soul you forgot you even had. Within a few hours, all those other concerns and worries I’d been carrying simply melted away. My sense of perspective returned; I felt lighter. I was sorry to have to pack up and leave the very next day, but I realized on the way home that it was one of the first Sunday nights in a while that I didn’t feel some mild dread about going to work the next day. The euphoria clung on.

Now, with that said, the world doesn’t need another Waldenesque treatise on the beauty of nature and the necessity of solitude in the Wilderness. Because frankly, it’s easy to love Yosemite. It’s easy to go there and feel awakened to the possibilities of the universe, and hopeful for our own potential.

But while the mountains may call, so does normal life, at least for most of us. And when we return to the cities—when we trade the sound of waterfalls for that of traffic, dirt on the ground for smog in the air, and deer in the forest for roaches in our apartments—that is when we need the mountains, or their memory at least. They help us remember that we are part of something much larger than ourselves, something that connects all parts of our experience, not just the magnificent; and if we can, when we look at our normal lives and think of that, we ought to feel the same sense of wonder.


news & updates.

no bylines, but some new things from work:

there’s a new James Bond movie out, and Stanford professors are asking the important questions, like: “What’s the deal with those credit sequences?” Songs. Bond Songs.

Gutenberg’s Galaxy


read this.

“The rope swing looked inviting. Photos of it on Airbnb brought my family to the cottage in Texas. […] When my father decided to give it a try on Thanksgiving morning, the trunk it was tied to broke in half and fell on his head, immediately ending most of his brain activity.” Living and Dying on Airbnb.

Jeb Bush created Florida’s first charter school to help African American children in one of Miami’s poorest neighborhoods. Then he moved on.

On Tinder, off sex.

Some thoughts on Sesame Street’s move to HBO (from a cool lady who writes a lot about Saint Louis!)

Footnotes on the most recent Republican debate.

Report: Nation’s Gentrified Neighborhoods Threatened by Aristocratization.

When schools buy more local food, kids throw less of their lunches in the trash.

The Transformation of David Brooks. A thoughtful look at one of America’s preeminent columnists, the place of morality in journalism, and more. Stellar read, and thanks to Chris for the link.

Field-tested strategies to reduce stress, organized by time commitment.

If you’re not paranoid, you’re crazy. Maybe it’s lazy to put the Atlantic’s cover story in here, but I thought it was a solid reflection on technology, data, and privacy. And it’s really nice to read something that’s the product of years of mulling an issue over, rather than another hot take 2 hours after the news broke. But that’s just me.

Study finds controlled Washington, D.C. wildfires crucial for restoring healthy political environment.

A good summary of #ConcernedStudent1950 and the protests at Mizzou; granted, that whole situation has changed pretty rapidly since this article went to print–including, perplexingly, what seem to be widespread attempts by students and profs to suppress press coverage of the protests, despite their taking place on the *public* campus of one of America’s most respected journalism schools–updates to follow.


watch this.

On the phenomenon of wonder.


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That’s all folks. Thanks for reading, and have a lovely week!

Tock, tock.


“There’s a sight! There’s a sound! The greyheaded woodpecker tapping the hollow tree! Blind and dumb might well be envied now. […] Rat-tat! So man’s seconds tick! Oh! how immaterial are all materials! What things are real, but imponderable thoughts?”

A bearded old man in a blue vest read out the passage, rapping his knuckles on the wooden podium at the appropriate intervals. The knocks produced a slight ring in his microphone. Outside, the San Francisco Bay swelled and splashed against the rocks, and seagulls laughed to one another.

When the email hit my inbox, a message from Lindsey informing me of San Francisco’s first Moby-Dick reading marathon last weekend, I immediately had my plans for the weekend (sadly, a prior work commitment would prevent me from attending on Saturday, but alas). They’re now semi-established in New York and a few other spots on the Eastern seaboard, although these events are a relatively new phenomenon, as far as I can tell. In any case, they’re basically what you’d expect: a group of people gather somewhere, and take turns reading one chapter at a time all the way through the leviathan text. San Francisco, of course, has an illustrious literary past, a beach on the Pacific, and apparently hosted Melville for a brief spell in 1860. It only seemed natural then, that we should have a celebration for one of America’s greatest novels, too.

I got to Fort Mason later than I’d hoped—nearly 11 o’clock, just an hour before their estimated end time, although thankfully they ran long—and settled in. The whole thing was a little odd; forty or so people hunched over books, in an expansive white room devoid of any decoration or distraction. It almost felt like we were at church, only there was nothing to look at or focus on besides the text. Soon enough though, I was swept away.

These days, even the name “Melville” seems to conjure up feelings of stuffy 19th Century verbosity. But god, even 160 years after its publication, Moby-Dick still moves. Within just a few pages, I remembered why I was so taken by the book last year, when I first cracked it. It’s incredible what a great book can do, and this one opened my eyes to some of the majesty of the ocean, while also showing how expansive and gorgeous a novel can be.

As I sat there listening to the readers, I realized it must have been almost exactly a year since I’d finished it. It seemed hard to believe a year had passed—it at once felt so familiar, but also like it happened so much longer ago. Then, just as suddenly as I’d fallen back into the story, I was back in last October, awash in the memory of Fall in Indiana; of bonfires at night below a big Harvest Moon; of floating through my old college town, not quite a part of it anymore, but not quite anywhere else, either.

I tried to remember the feeling of those days. My life seemed like it was at the precipice of something back then, although I couldn’t say quite what that was. My sights were set on November 1st—Moving Day. Towards the end, I literally counted down the days. But as I thought about it, looking back, it seemed I was so ready to get out, to move on, that I was hardly present there anymore by this time last year. I’d have traded anything just to be gone, and so, in a way, I already was.

So much has changed since then, and that last month in South Bend seems like another life now, which is strange to me. October has always been my favorite month—it’s the time of year when I feel most in tune with myself. Usually we talk about autumn as a time when things change and begin to die, but for me, it’s a time of returning, of re-centering. I’ll be sad to see it go in a few days. There’s a long time until the next October; I’ll try not to get there too fast.


read this.

Columbia, Ill. police managed to nab the culprit behind a weeks-long vandalism spree against a family’s Black Lives Matter signs. You’d think by age 62, you’d have the whole leaving-dead-raccoons-in-the-neighbors’-yard thing out of your system, but apparently not in this case.

My Dark California Dream. Thanks to Lindsey for sharing this one

Hillary Clinton is Fun.

A fascinating profile of one of Toronto’s top attorneys.

Marlon James, this year’s Man Booker Prize winner, had just about abandoned writing after receiving 70 rejections for his first novel. Whether this is a story about perseverance or simply the masochistic qualities necessary to become a successful writer remains unclear.

A handy guide for defeating any ear worm.

“There is a legitimate secret menu, scrawled on the back of a placemat by Ray Kroc himself in the late 1950s, that has remained buried under a missile silo in southern Illinois—until today!” In perhaps the most twisted and funny food story I’ve ever seen, Lucky Peach presents McDonald’s secret menu.


fic pick.

ok so maybe it’s a faux pas to present two New Yorker fiction pieces here, but I’d already picked out one earlier this week, and then I read the story in the current issue, and it needed to go in too. So here ya go:

“Pumpkin Head” – Joyce Carol Oates
“Who Will Greet You at Home” – Lesley Nneka Arimah


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Happy Halloween!