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By her own account, Diana was not clever. Nor was she especially good, in the sense of having a dependable inclination to virtue; she was quixotically loving, not steadily charitable: mutable, not dependable: given to infatuation, prey to impulse. This is not a criticism. Myth does not reject any material. It only asks for a heart of wax. Then it works subtly to shape its subject, mould her to be fit for fate. When people described Diana as a “fairytale princess”, were they thinking of the cleaned-up versions? Fairytales are not about gauzy frocks and ego gratification. They are about child murder, cannibalism, starvation, deformity, desperate human creatures cast into the form of beasts, or chained by spells, or immured alive in thorns. The caged child is milk-fed, finger felt for plumpness by the witch, and if there is a happy-ever-after, it is usually written on someone’s skin.

From this excellent essay, “The princess myth: Hilary Mantel on Diana” in The Guardian. 

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Fashion-magazine layouts have a particular feel to them. We know it well: stylized, blank, alluring in an anonymous way, suggestive of sex, but devoid of sensuality or personal emotion. The photographs draw us in, but the models don’t return our gaze. Instead, they tend to wear a kind of frozen, faraway gaze, a look that frees us to gawk unashamedly, without fear of being caught staring. Fashion models feign ignorance of the camera lens in order to signal that we are not their interlocutors, but rather voyeurs whose desires are roused only to be rechanneled toward the items for sale (clothes, jewels, handbags, etc.).

Such photos exist to cast the fetishizing spell of the commodity over us. They create, that is, a dissociative relationship with the viewer. And while Melania Trump was known to have been somewhat stiff as a model, she has clearly mastered that squinty, middle-distance gaze, which she regularly employs as First Lady.

Melania dresses and moves as if she were awkwardly performing a theatrical role, much as Ivanka does. Their oddly stilted presence in political settings seems to transform all occasions, no matter how “presidential,” into advertisements. This is not because they were both once models, but because they cannot stop posing like models. (Ironically, successful models learn to avoid such obvious artificiality, since it makes the unreality of fashion shoots too glaring.)

The Trump women evince a dazed blankness and anonymity that in turn cast doubt on the reality of everything around them.

From “Melania Trump and the chilling artifice of fashion” by Rhonda Garelick in The Cut. 

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I want to see this.

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Essay writing at its finest…

When a chance came to visit Yellow Springs, I had no expectation that Chappelle would be there. But I wanted to see it. In Yellow Springs, I met Yvonne Seon. We had a good time. We discussed my wedding, we discussed Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, and she introduced me to her family. It was a lovely day. Idyllic, even. On my way out of town, I felt tired, so I stopped for some coffee at a local coffee shop. As I was paying, I saw a few guys out back in the garden, talking, and then I saw Dave Chappelle, in a weird white tank top that strained to contain his muscles. No longer lean. Well-defended.

So at a cash register in Yellow Springs I stood and watched as the person I had so badly wanted to talk to walked toward me. But when he said hello, I made a decision that—until my plane ride home—I kicked myself for. Moving on pure instinct, I simply said hello, turned and finished paying my bill, and left.

Did I mention that the light is beautiful at dusk in Yellow Springs? The people walk the streets, going to the grocery store or looking at the theater listings. There is a café that was once a house on the Underground Railroad that now serves delicious Reuben sandwiches and plays disco music. People say hello in passing, kids with Afros zip by on scooters. It is small-town America, but with hemp stores. I didn’t want to leave, because it seems like an easy place to live. Not without its problems, but a place with a quiet understanding that conversation is the minimum for living in a better world. You know, simple things.

At a memorial for his father a few years back, standing next to his mother at the podium at Antioch College, Dave Chappelle ended his speech by thanking the community of Yellow Springs. “So,” he said, “thank you to you all for giving my father a context where he could just exist and be a good dude, because to be a good dude, as many good dudes have shown you before, is just not a comfortable thing to be. It’s a very hard thing to aspire to. And so thanks for honoring him, because sometimes it is a lonely, quiet road when you make a decision to try to transcend your own demons or be good or whatever he was trying to do here.”

From “If he hollers let him go: Searching for Dave Chappelle ten years after he left his own show” by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah in The Believer. 

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The constant reminders that we are watching a performance serve to reinforce the sense that we remain between reality and the dream, always prompting the question about what the meaning of the performance is.

Twin Peaks is also — far more than Lynch’s other work — preoccupied with communication, or, more accurately, non-communication, and not merely because of the reverse-talking of the Lodge inhabitants.

From Bernard Keane’s “I’ll watch you again in 25 years: a return to Twin Peaks” in Crikey. 

This is great analysis.

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This documentary film, Hotel Coolgardie, looks amazing and somewhat terrifying.

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Great stripped down hip hop with wonderful archival footage from Aboriginal political history for the video clip.

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Nutrition

Set aside an hour for a real lunch. Not food. Ingest the ambient sounds of your workplace.

Interpersonal Connection

Who was your first friend? Dial tech support and whisper his or her name until the I.T. person hangs up. Relationships are important for well-being.

From Krithika Varagur’s “Self-care tips from Yoko Ono” in The New Yorker. 

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This is a good response to Jia Tolentino’s “The personal-essay boom is over” in The New Yorker from Susan Shapiro in Forward with “Taking it personal: A feminist defense of the first-person essay”.

While Tolentino and others espouse the simplistic, paternalistic view that women mining their intimate lives in public could be somehow exploitative and exploited, I quote Nora Ephron: “Everything’s copy” and try to emulate her grace and sense of humor. I always found revealing secrets in print cathartic and liberating, repeating my shrink’s mantra that, to stay healthy, you should “lead your least secretive life.” Indeed, I owe the career my conservative Midwest family hates to this form. I was originally compelled by this so-called 2008 “first-person industrial complex boom” decades before, as I devoured the audacious confessional poetry of Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Ted Hughes, Robert Lowell and Nikki Giovanni in the staid Michigan Jewburbs in the sixties. Getting my MFA at NYU in 1981, I noticed one could turn poetry subjects into essays and books (like the brilliant Mary Karr, Carol Muske-Dukes, and Katha Pollitt.) After working at The New Yorker for four years, I wrote for The New York Times Lives and Hers columns, Newsweek’s “My Turn,” Cosmopolitan’s “Outrageous Opinion,” along with Glamour, New Woman, Marie Claire, which, at the time, paid $1,000 or more.

Tolentino attributes the shifting essay market to politics (a response to Trump’s election) but as her own piece demonstrates, it’s economics. She quotes former Salon editor Sarah Hepola saying the personal essay “boom” of her day was motivated by an online climate where content was needed and budgets were slashed. Yes, after Apple’s iTunes destroyed the feasibility of music albums, the Internet devalued paper tomes with e-books and hurt print. Cheaper shorter faster online essay versions did proliferate, along with internet trolls and pop up adds. Instead of 1,600 word, $1,600 carefully curated Jane Magazine pieces, suddenly XOJane paid $25 or $50 for quick takes, many silly, which I blame on editors (who are, after all, our bosses) and the higher ups in charge, desperate to keep their businesses afloat. I didn’t love all the Tampax and cat hair pieces or prompts from Hearst’s The Mix. Yet it seemed a worthy experiment since it gave young writers I knew clips, exposure, and literary agents. Cream rose, as always.

 

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