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On My Back: Age, Death, and Angry Birds

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June 6, 2016





Hello, hello, hello!


I’d hoped to spend more time writing around this week’s news and links but, alas, to add to my literal pains, I’m now suffering lingering back problems after what appeared to be (lousy healthcare, so it’s mostly guesswork) an attack of sciatica which came on suddenly during a Lyft ride back home from Pilsen.  For those who live in cities where cabs and public transportation are plentiful and efficient and like to go on about the evils of ride-sharing: Stuff it. I get all the issues, but if I’d been on a hour and a half long el ride (perfectly  normal in Chicago, where the public transportation system is carefully designed to keep white people safe from everyone else who has to take circuitious routes to get anywhere), I don’t think I would have survived the massive pain for that long without killing myself or screaming, a lot.  As it is, I spent that night waking up every fifteen minutes or so from the sharp pain, but it has all subsided for now, and it’s now mostly lot of a discomfort in my back.  A friend forwarded me some exercises, which are also helping.  On the plus side, I found an excellent dentist — hit me up privately if you’re in Chicago and you’d like a recommendation.  And let me know if you know of a good and affordable chiropractor in town?


I suspect much of all that’s been going on is a reminder that I am not, despite my constant insistence on this alternative fact, twenty-six years old.  I mean, you hear of this thing called “age” but you figure you’re going to live forever and eventually climb Mt. Everest at 82, and get a little write-up in the local paper for doing what half the world seems to be doing these days (and leaving its waste there as evidence, creating what one person has called a “fecal time bomb”) and maybe, maybe die at oh, 105, surrounded by friends sagely nodding at you as lie on a soft but firm mattress, your head resting on a mass of beautiful, downy pillows as you gracefully and with great beauty intact depart to join your cats as molecules.  And then one day, having finally having had your teeth cleaned and picking up some amazing smoky chicken from Pollo Express, you find yourself in the back of a Lyft ride, holding on to your shin and your tears as the very nice driver wonders if you need to get to a CVS to get meds for what is clearly agony, and you shake your head and say, no, you’ll be fine when you’d much rather maybe just get off the side of the road and cry a lot but you know you’re better off getting home quickly and taking some painkillers.  And that’s when you wonder if that “age” thing isn’t true after all, not just something that happens to other people’s parents. And that “death” thing seems a bit more real.

Anyway, again, not to cause any panic, but, oh, dear, I’m now working through pain elsewhere.  I’m a bit behind, but still excited about all the writing and I promise there will be more to come, that’s original to this website.  Summer’s here, so that’s a welcome relief, and I’m looking forward to being able to sail out the door and head to my favourite coffee shop to write without spending half an hour putting on all the layers necessary for Chicago, where you can experience three seasons over the course of a single day. Until mid-June, till about the end of August, where it’s nothing but vile, sweat-inducing heat.


As always, many, many thanks to those who have renewed their subscriptions, or subscribed for the first time, or donated. I will get gack to all, I promise!




For The Baffler, Eugenia Williamson and I wrote “Abortive Reasoning: What’s Wrong with the Reproductive Rights Debate” and, as promised, it is up.  It’s lovely, luscious, and long and Genie and I had the most fun working on this; I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we loved writing it.


I’ve been working on several pieces about what’s going on in academia these days, and want to produce writing that does more than just debate free speech, a topic in which I have very little interest. I’m interested in thinking about power, a long-term concern and interest of mine, and I’m really concerned that a lot of the current conversation flattens out a lot of what’s going on, positioning immature twitter fights alongside more serious matters like the actual repression of scholars producing critical scholarship on the matter of Israel and Palestine.  More on all that later but in the meantime, please, before you sign yet another petition or assume that yet another academic is being hounded out of existence, ask yourself the hard but necessary questions: Is merely pissing off the Right a sign of radical politics?  Is simply calling Trump an evil megalomaniac evidence of “brilliant scholarship?”  I’ll expand on these issues, but I hint at some of them here, in this FB post. We should, by all means, resist and refuse the Right as it tears at some in the academy, but I fear that our standards for what counts as brilliant and radical work are getting lower every day.


I’d hoped to turn this into a longer piece this week, and I will, as soon as my health issues settle down.  But for now, here is something I wrote to all those who work on and finish portions of or entire pieces of writing — the world doesn’t value writing, but you should congratulate yourself!




Amal Clooney has had twins; expect the news to talk about nothing else for several, ah, well, years.



If you’re in or around Hyde Park, you should check out the artwork of Corinna Button; I was just there, working at Bridgeport Coffee (my favourite coffee shop and home to the best crew and coffee) which is attached to the Hyde Park Art Center, and took a break to look at her installation.  The pieces, including a very large portrait, are riveting.



Cassowaries are often unfairly maligned.  This piece sets the record straight, to some extent — we need to remember that we are far more dangerous to them than they are to us.


As I always have to say, whenever I post a New Yorker piece, the magazine is generally awful on politics (and its humour is awful, just awful, and anything it does in relation to people of colour, whether in fiction or other coverage, is generally cringe-inducing).  But, this piece on Trump pulling out of the Paris accord (well, sorta) is level-headed.


Also from the New Yorker and really, really good and fascinating is, this piece on...sand.


Corgi races are a thing.  If you’re like me, you balk at even watching dog race videos.  But.  This. Is.  Not.  Your.  Usual.  Dog.  Race.  And, Logan Handsomepants.


You know how a certain kind of lefty likes to go on and on about the WHITE working class?  Well, this, about the meat-packing industry in Iowa (home to the Postville raid, by the way) is from the New York Times, of all places, but it implicitly challenges that romantic narrative about class and whiteness.


Here’s a recent New Yorker piece about the rampant abuse of immigrant workers in the meat industry.


The Sea Squirt eats its own brain, making it the spirit animal of too many humans I know.


From the archives, here’s an old favourite, “On Malayalam and Melancholia.


Also a favourite: this review of Christopher Lane’s Shyness: How Normal Behaviour Became a Sickness.


Here’s my piece on Angelina Jolie and neoliberalism, “Angelina Jolie, Queer Theory, and the Gods of Neoliberalism.”


I love all my pieces in Current Affairs, and all the accompanying artwork, which is always meticulously chosen and produced. When Frida and I become upper middle class or something, I’d love to be able to acquire at least one of those gloriously sentimental nineteenth-century painting of women in gardens.  Here’s “Bourgeois Feminist Bullshit,” a review of Rebecca Traister’s book on All The Single Ladies.



In case you missed it, here’s last week’s update, “Hammers and Nails and Cats, Oh, My!


I’ve always loved Simon and Garfunkel, as I reveal here.  Here’s “Sound of Silence.”


image: Ferdinand von Wright, "The Fighting Capercaillies," 1886.


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