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04 Apr 00:39

Inside McMansion Hell

by Arianna Rebolini

An interview with Kate Wagner, the ugly-house blogger.

To fully appreciate McMansion Hell — Kate Wagner’s biting and hilarious blog skewering those “ugly houses that became ubiquitous before (and after) the bubble burst” — one needs to understand McMansions. To understand McMansions, one needs look no further than Wagner’s McMansion scale, aka the 10 Circles of McMansion Hell. The graphic is representative of the blog as a whole: aesthetically lo-fi, but thoroughly considered; accessible to laypeople, but clearly created by someone read up in architectural theory.

courtesy of Kate Wagner / McMansion Hell

Wagner is a 23-year-old grad student researching acoustics at Johns Hopkins. Anyone familiar with her blog — primarily real estate listings annotated with her chastening commentary — will recognize the colloquial efficiency of the categorizations she’s created. For the sixth circle of McMansion Hell: “House is ok, garage is not.” Circles eight through ten: “More roof than house.” Circles seven through ten: the all-caps “TURRET.” (Turrets, like columns, excessive roof lines, and illogical windows are common objects of Wagner’s disdain.)

It’s a satisfying explainer for those who hate these sprawling suburban houses but maybe haven’t been able to articulate why, but it’s also genuinely educational. Spliced between photos calling out excessive windows in New Jersey (“scream holes”) and useless status symbols in Delaware (“what is the point of tray ceilings SERIOUSLY though”) are primers on architectural history and theory, and a regularly updated master list of further reading. It honestly might be your new favorite blog.

I got Wagner on the phone and talked about the driving (angry) passion behind McMansion Hell — where her interest began, how these houses became ubiquitous, and why she’s totally fine with tearing them apart.

courtesy of Kate Wagner / McMansion Hell

Tell me a bit about the background of McMansion Hell.

Kate Wagner: I started the blog in July 2016, basically because there weren’t really any good ugly house blogs. I didn’t think anybody was going to pay any attention, but then I wrote this piece on the blog called Why McMansions Are Bad Architecture and it kind of went viral. I don’t know how, but it did, and then suddenly I started getting tens of thousands of people following my Tumblr. I’m in the middle of putting together a book proposal and working as a writer for several other publications, so this sort of kickstarted a career for me, which is really awesome, honestly. I’m really grateful that it happened.

It seems, as a reader, that an important factor of your success is that you’re obviously really knowledgeable about what you’re talking about. You’re able to point out, to people like me who might not know why these houses are so off-putting, what exactly makes this kind of architecture and design bad. That’s something you study, right?

KW: I study architectural acoustics at the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins. My thesis is a taxonomy of concert halls. I’m trying to get a PhD so I can write a book about concert halls.

Have you always been interested in architecture and the functionality of design?

KW: Yeah, ever since I was a little kid. I rode the bus in North Carolina — in Southern Pines, which is about an hour south of Raleigh — and my sister and I were the first ones to get on the bus at 6:30 in the morning, and the last to get off in the afternoon. The whole time I was looking at houses and trying to picture the lives of people who came out, trying to see how the houses were different from each other, and being really fascinated with the ones that were a little funny looking. I was an HGTV junkie as a kid. I loved watching Candice Olsen on “Divine Design”; I was always really into “House Hunters.” I started writing about postmodern architecture in high school, for classes but also privately. That was the easiest way for me to get into architectural theory. Now my horizons are a lot broader, but honestly, reading Learning From Las Vegas in high school was what got me interested in the idea of writing about architecture from a theory standpoint.

The blog is so funny, but there is real, evident anger behind it. What bothers you about what you’re seeing?

KW: First of all, I hate the wastefulness of it. You don’t need that much space. These houses are just so horribly constructed; they’re huge energy sinks, part of a completely unsustainable lifestyle, which is also driven by the car and the isolation of suburbia and exurbia.

Then, the pretentiousness of it. It’s appropriating architectural languages of the past, like certain types of columns, in order to denote an appeal to authority, architecturally. By putting columns on your front door, it’s saying you have the same amount of power as an institution like a bank or government office. We’ve codified certain symbols as symbols of wealth. But that started a long time ago, and it’s a whole other can of worms. Now, though, the cheapness of the material — there’s an irony there for me. It’s making this bold statement of wealth, but you can’t afford to do it with good stuff.

Also just the roof lines bother me the most. [Laughs.] They make no sense, and they’re huge, and they’re at so many different pitches, and anyone who knows anything about roofs knows the more complicated the roofs are, the more likely they are to leak. Can you imaging re-roofing a house like that, after ten or twelve years? It would cost more than buying a new house.

courtesy of Kate Wagner / McMansion Hell

Looking through the pictures on your posts, you start to realize how consistent these markers are. Like, I’d never noticed how many windows are on these houses. How could you need so many windows? What are some of the elements you see again and again?

KW: Usually the roof lines are the number one. The windows not matching, or there being too many windows, or windows in illogical places. That’s pretty common. The use of foam architectural detailings. I don’t know how trendy this stuff is; it was pretty trendy in the 2000s, but some of it has gone a little out of style. Vinyl siding is pretty much out of style now, but that was a marker.

I honestly think it’s the size of the houses. The two-story entryway. They’re not scaled at all to the human being. For me to stand in front of this house would make me feel so small, and I think that’s part of the point. They’re not homey, because they’re just so huge.

All of these things are sort of codified throughout the blog. I devised a scale of how McMansion-y something is based on certain architectural features, as a way to taxonomize. That no one has really done so is interesting to me. I wouldn’t say it’s vernacular architecture — which is designed and built by the people who would use it — because there are huge corporations, lots of industry, money, lobbying involved. But it is uneducated. There’s so much American housing that hasn’t been studied in any sort of academic way, and of course the blog is not the way to examine that, but it’s part of a greater research project of mine, which is to document the changes in American housing in the last 40 years, architecturally and economically and sociologically.

The tagline of the blog describes these homes as coming before the bubble burst. Can you talk a little about the economic environment that led to this surge of McMansions?

KW: I think the financial crisis and McMansions — there’s no causation. It’s all correlation. When markets are good, people build houses that are huge. That’s why the average housing square footage has gone up yet again this year. When markets are good, people buy huge houses, and they’re not going to stop until that way of life is no longer sustainable financially, which means we run out of oil.

What happened with the financial crisis is that because of the riskiness of the loans that were being lent at the time, you saw more people borrowing more money than they could afford, to build houses that were too big for what they needed. They were risky assets the entire time.

You’ve looked at different countries on the blog, but this aesthetic does kind of feel specific to the U.S. Is that real, or do I just think that because I’m here?

KW: I’m only now starting to study the McMansions of other countries because there’s so much to study in my own country that I could never run out of material, but I think the main differences are in size. In Canada, the house are just a little smaller. They’re still ugly and stupid, but they’re not quite as huge. Australia, for at least a couple years, had larger house sizes than the U.S. But also it’s hard to navigate the real estate listings there so it’s hard for me to get a bigger picture of the what the average is for those areas. Since I haven’t been to those places, I can’t get as good of a feel of how their suburban landscape is different from ours. But I plan on visiting eventually.

courtesy of Kate Wagner / McMansion Hell

Could you identify states here that are the worst offenders?

KW: Oh yeah. If I’m just like, oh, I need to find a good McMansion right now, my go-to places are northern Virginia, southern Maryland, the D.C. suburbs. New Jersey — all of it. The whole thing. I find some pretty heinous ones in the southeast in general. Marietta, Georgia, is particularly horrible. Colorado’s pretty bad. Texas, always. Texas ’til the end of time.

That makes sense, everything bigger in Texas.

KW: Texas is particularly horrible.

Have you had to deal with angry or offended readers?

KW: I’m still waiting for someone to be like, “That’s my house!” but no one has yet.

That’s good.

KW: No one’s ever even been like, “You’re wrong. I hate this, and you’re wrong.” Which is hilarious, because I totally expected that to happen, since the internet is evil.

You are in a sort of rare position to not be getting hate for something you’re doing on the internet — which is probably a good sign. Do you ever feel bad, though, about tearing apart these places which has been or will someday be someone’s home? Or is it more like, listen, make a better house and I won’t make fun of it.

KW: It’s not like it’s a witch hunt. I’ll include the city or the county, but I never link to the real estate listing. I try to be vague about the square footage and the price so people can’t just look it up. I try to give them privacy in that way. But I think that I don’t particularly feel bad because the people who build these houses obviously have enough wealth where they don’t really need to care, honestly. I don’t want to be deciding factor between someone buying a house or not buying a house, but at the same time, these houses are so exorbitant and so stupid that I feel like they’ve already been sitting on the market forever, and nothing I say is going to change the fact that they’re not really wanted. They’re just so huge and so expensive and so bad. But also I just don’t feel bad at all, really. (Laughs.) There’s a reason I don’t crap all over apartment complexes, because people live where they can afford to live. But at a certain point you’re not living where you can afford to live; you’re living in excess.

courtesy of Kate Wagner / McMansion Hell

Do you see a reversal in the trend? It feels like people are embracing minimalism, but that might just be my own urban bubble.

KW: In architecture, yeah. You see the tiny house trend, and younger people tend to do less. I read somewhere that my generation and the generation before care more about experiences than assets. Their idea of having a good life is doing things like traveling and living in the city rather than having a huge house and a nice car and all of the things that for so long was the sort of American ideal. Technology also changes things. When you live in a world with such pervasive technology, which in some ways is erasing borders, there’s no room for tribalism or any of the things that keep us locked in one place. So I think minimalism is definitely appealing to the financial situations of young people who are saddled with debt, or it’s appealing to people who get more from doing things than from having things.

But still, people ask me all the time if the McMansion is going to die, and I know Business Insider wants it to die so bad and I appreciate them, but it’s not. Fewer people are buying old, but more people are building new. That’s sort of what’s emerged as the trend.

There will always be people who want a huge house.

KW: For a lot of people, their idea of personal wealth and success is a huge house. Is there something wrong with that? I’m a super environmentalist, so I would say yes, of course there’s something inherently wrong with having and creating this huge waste of space. But at the same time, it’s still somebody’s home. If that’s their dream, then that’s their dream. I’m not going to insult that person specifically; that’s why I make up characters. But no, it’s not going to die until that way of life is unsustainable, until people literally cannot afford to live that way. And the only way that can happen is if we run out of oil. Or Florida falls off into the ocean.

Inside McMansion Hell was originally published in The Hairpin on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

22 Mar 21:28

Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Brilliant Fleabag Is Getting a Second Season

by Madeleine Davies
Image via Amazon/Fleabag.

Greedy, perverted, selfish, apathetic, cynical, depraved, morally bankrupt women who can’t even call themselves feminists: Rejoice! Fleabag, the series written by and starring the quick-witted and luminous Phoebe Waller-Bridge, has been renewed for a second season.

Waller-Bridge confirmed the news to Radio Times on Saturday, saying, “We cracked [the first season] open so that she would be able to have a life beyond it and also there are so many more stories and story strands and character strands come out of this series.”

As for ideas on what the second season will be about, she says, “I think I have one...We are all trying to make it work and have the same team back.”

The first season of Fleabag, which is available on Amazon in the U.S., was made up of a compact (though deeply affecting) six episodes and based on Waller-Bridge’s one woman show of the same name. Since Fleabag’s televised debut, the writer/performer has been signed to UTA and has been working on a new series for BBC America called Killing Eve, “a brilliantly fresh take on the cat and mouse thriller.”

The wait for more Fleabag is gonna be a long one. Waller-Bridge, pretty busy these days, says the second season won’t debut until November of 2018.

14 Mar 22:34

Watch the Hilarious Trailer For Veep's Sixth Season

by Bobby Finger on The Muse, shared by Joanna Rothkopf to Jezebel

Veep, the funniest and most joyfully vulgar show on television, is returning for its sixth (!!) season next month, and I’d completely forgotten until seeing the hysterical trailer HBO dropped Monday afternoon.

In it, we see Selina dealing with her loss (spoiler, she’s not VEEP or POTUS anymore) by appearing on CBS Sunday Morning (“This last year has been fun! Really fun!”), taking a humanitarian trip to a region filled with land mines (she instructs Tony Hale’s Gary to walk ahead of her), and volunteering to clean up graffiti, but not finishing the job:

Image via screengrab.

I can’t wait to laugh again! It’s been so long!

Veep’s sixth season premieres April 16 on HBO.

03 Mar 01:47

I Read A Book About Brahms And All I Got Was This Obsession With Clara Schumann

by Fran Hoepfner

Classical Music Hour with Fran

Keep it 100, Clara. Image: The Currency Commission.

The main thing to know about me right now is that I am neck-deep in this Brahms biography. I am on a Brahms train, baby, and the next stop is 500 more pages of Brahms. And while every single fiber of my being is screaming, “write about Brahms this week,” I also know that I’m going to be tempted to write about him for the next month. So in the meantime, I want to write about one of his closest friends and maybe maybe maybe the love of his life, as well as the first female composer for this column: Clara Schumann.

Schumann (née Wieck) was born to be a famous pianist, namely because her father decided at a very young age that that’s what his daughter was going to become. He had her learning piano when she was a toddler, and even before she was 10, Clara was recognized as one of the most promising musicians of the mid-19th century. When she was 11, she met Robert Schumann, who was 9 years older than her, who dropped everything to move into her house and teach her piano and one day marry her. Nice. Nice nice nice. Extremely normal and good thing from the past.

The Schumanns are often recognized as a power couple of the time — your Beyoncé and Jay-Z, your William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman, you get it. But like many celebrity power couples, the woman is often more notable than the man. For a long time, it was easy to overlook Clara Schumann; Robert was the composer of them, really, and she was just the performer. But that’s wrong! It’s extremely wrong! She composed too! She performed all the time! Robert went insane (got mercury poisoning? Had syphilis? Who even knows when you’re living in the past, baby) and threw himself in the Rhine, while she went on to raise their seven children while also almost constantly on tour. (Okay, so a nanny or something like that probably raised those children, but you get it!!)

Image: Franz Hanfstaengl, via Wikimedia Commons

Descriptions of Clara Schumann in my big Brahms book are fairly consistent: she was serious, melancholy, only ever truly happy when playing piano but also constantly crying anytime she wasn’t playing piano. She and Brahms met through Robert when Brahms was only 20 (very hot age to be) and the two were inseparable for approximately two years while her husband was in an asylum. While they probably didn’t ever consummate their relationship, she did write him letters that said things like, “every letter from you is like a kiss.” In addition, there’s a brief but wonderful quote from Franz Liszt in this book, who at one point wrote of Clara as, “a consecrated, faithful stern priestess whose eyes look upon men with a sad, penetrating gaze.” Obviously, I love her.

The piece I found myself most drawn to her in small but significant repertoire is her first and only concerto: Piano Concerto In A Minor, Opus 7, composed when she was a mere 16 years old. So this is pre-Brahms, pre-Robert Schumann. This is Clara as Clara Wieck, and her work is still clearly steeped in a certain seriousness and straightforwardness.

Some context, perhaps, in her work is necessary: following the death of Beethoven (one of whose piano concertos I’ve previously written about), there was much to be figured out about the state of German music. Was it going to follow in the footsteps of ol’ Ludwig Van — fairly traditional meditations on a normal classical? Or would it move in the direction of composers like Liszt and Mendelssohn and Wagner, the early German Romantics?

Clara’s piano concerto comes approximately 8 years in history after Beethoven’s death, and even the opening movement, an Allegro Maestoso (!) feels fairly Beethoven-esque. It’s powerful and serious, heavy with emotion and straightforward with its themes. However, when the piano slinks over the orchestra around the 1:20 mark, there’s something much more delicate and coy. Clara’s music doesn’t feel as overtly tragic as Beethoven’s often did. There’s a little run at the 1:50 mark that’s purely joyful. So much of this movement in particular transforms into something lovely. I don’t mean to diminish her work as only lovely, please believe me. I just feel the urge to fight against this perception of her as this cold, mean woman. Look at this teen! Look at her write something so complex and genuinely beautiful! No German composer deserved her, as far as I’m concerned.

The first movement in fact leaves off on something of a cliffhanger, tumbling into the second movement, a Romanze. This is the shortest of the three movements, and it is a romance if I ever heard one. It’s meditative and hopeful! Hopeful! She wrote this with the help of Robert Schumann and it’s possible, no doubt, it was about a romance with him. She could have been crushing, is what I’m trying to say. Regardless, there is a cello solo that comes in at the 2:20 mark that, in tandem with the piano, is one of the most gorgeous and elegant melodies I’ve ever heard.

Image: iClassical Com

The original theme from the first movement returns in the third movement, an Allegro non troppo. It’s hard not to love the final movement of any piano concerto, in which just about every single piano part just goes right the hell off. I’m talking runs and sweeps and scales and just about every hand slamming down on the instrument all at once. No doubt there is some power in this movement. We’re back to that general Beethoven-y sound, this bubbling complexity, the back and forth between the piano and the orchestra.

There’s a part right at the 7 or so minute mark where it feels like the piano and the orchestra are talking to each other — not quite fighting, but certainly dancing around each other, about to square off.

I truly cannot believe Clara started working on this before I even had my learner’s permit, but there you go. The Allegro non troppo reaches a tense finale — it’s a balancing act, no doubt, between the lightness of the piano and the heaviness of an orchestra, like someone pulling on a tightrope as an acrobat walks across. The last minute on that piano is just — it’s insane. It’s amazing. It’s playful and forceful all at once. I’m so proud of her, this melancholy teen who would later own Liszt by simply looking at him. Women rule.

Fran Hoepfner is a writer from Chicago. You can find a corresponding playlist for all of the pieces discussed in this column here.

I Read A Book About Brahms And All I Got Was This Obsession With Clara Schumann was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

16 Feb 00:19

Deutschland Über Us

by Rebecca Schuman

How’s it going over in the last bastion of liberal democracy?

Image: [martin]

Guten Tag, friends, and Willkommen to a thing in which I investigate everything that’s happening in and around the Federal Republic of Germany, where the Earth’s last remaining sentinel against widespread nuclear armageddon, Angela Merkel, offers us a full Pantone array of sensible suits, ruthless punctuality, and a foreign and domestic policy that made her a close ally of Barack Obama, but unapologetically “center-right” in a political landscape that also includes the Pirate Party.

We Americans might feel a a whiff of Gewissensbiß, as Nietzsche would say (the “bite of conscience”), that Germans of all people get to lord their comparatively progressive, inclusive worldview over us for the next possibly-four years. After all, how bad did it have to get for the Volk who brought us the Holocaust to feel fully justified in putting this bad boy on the cover of Der Spiegel?

Der Spiegel, by the way, means “the mirror,” as in, Germans are supposed to see themselves reflected in it — and what they see is a metric fuck-ton of superiority to the nation who, only a few decades ago, had to chop their best city into four pieces because they couldn’t even be trusted to do that themselves.

Yes, Germans must be feeling pretty good about themselves these days, because if there is one thing they love more than passive-aggressively ringing their bicycle bells at pedestrians, it’s being right all the time. That’s why last week’s mortifying moment at a Fed Cup tennis match — when a singer belted out the wrong version of the German national anthem, the Nazi version, the Deutschland über alles version, and not the current one, that begins Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit, or “unity, justice and freedom”—is the best thing to happen to the Fatherland since Knight Rider started streaming.

Because suddenly they’re not the bad guys for having the Nazi anthem (and the Nazis) in the first place. No, we’re the doofuses who are so illiterate in other languages that we can’t Wikipedia Deutschlandlied, and apparently also (at least unconsciously) so insecure in the shadow of our own little Dorito Führer that we have to remind Germany what they did so that we won’t look so bad. (Hint: It didn’t work.)

Well, Germans, I’m here to take you down a Kerbe. We may have recently ruined our democracy (something you know nothing about), but you recently ruined the best thing about your television. Germans will attempt to tell you that the best show on German television is something called “Tatort (“Crime Scene,” literally “place of the deed”), a program that’s been running for 47 years, and is sort of “CSI” with bad lighting, dramatic pauses that are much too long, and intermittent nudity, that even the most cynical citizen of the Federal Republic will halt the entirety of his Sunday evening to watch.

(The Germans don’t seem to care what we do with “Tatort” here, so you can watch entire episodes on YouTube. Here’s one. It’s got at least one naked butt.)

Other Germans will attempt to tell you that they only watch American television, and this can mean one of two things: That they illegally stream our good shows in English, or that they watch our terrible shows dubbed. (Germans love “The King of Queens:” Fact.) But what only the most self-aware will admit is that the true treasures of the Teutonic Fernseher (literally, “far-seer,” as in, zis contreption lets you see ze sings zat are far away) are the scores of cheaply produced reality shows, which go by the most German word possible, by which I mean it is a compound of two English words used incorrectly: Doku-Soaps.

It’s not that our own docu-soaps aren’t ridiculous. Clearly they are. But every show in the U.S. at least has a gimmick to suck viewers in to the banality of its particular brand of evil: This family has twenty-five children! These people have been stranded on an island with only a television crew and plenty of food and water a slight distance away! These women all married rich guys at one point or another! These women are all little people — but they’re ALSO bitches! To be featured on American unscripted television, a person or situation must be extraordinary in some way, either enviable or pitiable.

In Germany, the more normal the situation, the more likely it is to be televised. I think the most popular reality show in the history of German television would be a crew filming a random 55-year-old couple while they go to the grocery store and complain to the cashier that the box of chocolate breakfast cereal they always get has decreased a gram in volume but increased three cents in price.

Case in point: An entire show called “Versicherungsdetektive (“Insurance Detectives”) that follows the exploits of two dudes who go around investigating the middling instances of fraud that may or may not occur when a nation insures every single possession it owns. In one episode, the Insurance Detectives ran an iPhone over with a car (and it was unscathed) just to prove that a guy lied when he claimed his grandmother dropped his and cracked the screen. (They eventually discovered that he’d whacked the screen with a hammer in order to get his insurance to pay for a new model.)

But even the Insurance Detectives pale in comparison to a series called mieten, kaufen, wohnen (rent, buy, live), which is sort of like our “HouseHunters,” except the properties are unremarkable three-room walk-ups, and every potential tenant, being German, is chronically unimpressed.

It’s masterful. Or, at any rate, it was. I’m sorry to say that one month and three days before the election of Donald Trump, the show ended its eight-year-run in a shameful rubble-heap of its former might.

For reasons I cannot begin to fathom other than that apparently Germans enjoy ruining perfect things, in its later years the producers of mieten, kaufen, wohnen decided to add a level of intrigue by creating false conflicts between the Makler and the client. Aki is a vegan, but agent Peter loves to eat Hackfleisch, a.k.a. chopped up bits of raw meat spread onto bread that no German under the age of 112 eats in earnest. How’s that going to go?????? Unwatchably, like this scene with a schoolteacher made to wait for twos of minutes for a Makler named Hanka, who apologizes unconvincingly about traffic.

Mieten, kaufen, wohnen was once a nominally unwatchable show that I somehow couldn’t stop watching. In its new incarnation, both the agents and the potential clients—nary a professional or even amateur actor among them—spent the episodes playing out scripted conflicts.

The unbridled genius of mieten, kaufen, wohnen was that it took the German propensity for literalism to its most delightful apex, and made a reality television show that actually depicted reality — which, being reality, is unremarkable. And now it’s destroyed. Nice job, Germans. (Note: For any Germans out there, I do not mean “nice job” literally. I am being sarcastic. That is when you say a thing that is the opposite of what you mean in a mocking voice. It’s a form of something called “humor.”)

The good news, I suppose, is that this means the Germans aren’t kicking our asses at everything nonstop. Sure, they still have a functioning democracy for now. But the shame of what they did to the best show on their television will outlive them all.

Deutschland Über Us was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

07 Feb 00:40

Haruki Murakami’s Metaphysics Of Food

by Elaheh Nozari

How meals and cooking are his most deeply intimate subjects.

The homes that sandwich the passage are of two distinct types and blend together as well as liquids of two different specific gravities. First there are the houses dating from way back, with big backyards; then there are the comparatively newer ones. None of the new houses has any yard to speak of; some don’t have a single speck of of yard space. Scarcely enough room between the eaves and the passage to hang out over two lines of laundry. In some places, clothes actually hang out over the passage, forcing me to inch past rows of still-dripping towels and shirts. I’m so close I can hear television playing and toilets flushing inside. I even smell curry cooking in one kitchen.
The Wind-Up Bird & Tuesday’s Women from The Elephant Vanishes

Food writing gets a bad rap for being fluffy and bougie, which isn’t quite fair since food is such an essential part of our existence. Outside of the establishment of bona fide culinary writers, many fiction writers have touched on the sensory and emotional aspects of food, from Marcel Proust to Nora Ephron, but no one has tapped into its prosaic humanity quite like the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. This is not lost on Murakami fans, and there are a few blogs devoted to the food his characters prepare, like What I Talk About When I Talk About Cooking. Murakami writes intricate plots with an extremely high level of emotional intelligence, but no matter how fantastical his stories are, his characters remain relatable, and food provides the balance between surrealism and normalcy. He weaves food into his stories in a mundane way that communicates the deep-seated reasons of why, how, and what we eat.

The amount of space given over to food in Murakami’s novels is unusual. In Dance Dance Dance, not a day goes by in the narrator’s life that he doesn’t tell the reader what he ate. Food has nothing to do with the plot, though: the book is about a guy searching for a prostitute he once loved. Murakami details the unnamed character’s diet with remarkable banality. In one scene, he’s staying at a luxury hotel and announces he’s tired of the breakfast spread, so he goes to Dunkin’ Donuts and gets two plain muffins. (“You get tired of hotel breakfasts in a day. Dunkin’ Donuts is just the ticket. It’s cheap and you get refills on the coffee.”) This guy is living in 1980s Japan, but this detail makes him immediately more familiar and accessible.

“Whether you take the doughnut hole as a blank space or as an entity unto itself is a purely metaphysical question and does not affect the taste of the doughnut one bit.” — ’A Wild Sheep Chase’ (Image: Kricket)

After Dark is a short novel that starts in a Denny’s at precisely 11:56 P.M. Within the first few pages we meet Takahashi, a trombonist-slash-student who’s come to Denny’s for a late-night snack of chicken salad and crispy toast. He proceeds into a short monologue about Denny’s chicken salad, explaining that even though it’s all he orders there, he still looks at the menu. “Wouldn’t it be too sad to walk into Denny’s and order chicken salad without looking at the menu? It’s like telling the world, ‘I come to Denny’s all the time because I love the chicken salad.’” Takahashi’s self-consciousness about his love of the chicken salad (which another character is quick to note is probably full of “weird drugs”) is relatable.

For Murakami, how we eat is a reflection of ourselves. In 1Q84, The Dowager is a wealthy septuagenarian widow who eats natural ingredients and French-influenced lunches like “boiled white asparagus, salad Niçoise, and a crabmeat omelet.” She eats small portions and drinks her tea, “like a fairy deep in the forest sipping a life-giving morning dew.” You get the sense from her diet and table manners not only that she’s well-bred and refined, but almost enlightened. Compare her to Ushikawa, a sleazy lawyer-turned-private-investigator whose family left him and who has no life outside of stalking people under the guise of work. He’s a self-loathing scumbag and he eats like one, too. Where the Dowager eats fresh vegetables, Ushikawa eats processed food like canned peaches and sweet jam buns, and goes days without having a hot meal. The Dowager treats her body like a temple, Ushikawa treats his like a garbage disposal. She is at peace with herself, he is not.

Yuki, a 13-year-old girl in Dance Dance Dance, has a similar diet to Ushikawa. Though she is of a vastly different demographic, her propensity to eat crap stems from the same feelings of being underloved. Her parents are wealthy and famous, but they’re estranged from each other and neglectful of her. She’s doesn’t have any friends until she meets the narrator, twenty years her senior, who becomes her platonic companion-slash-babysitter. In one scene, he calls and asks if she’s been eating healthy. “Let’s see. First there was Kentucky Fried Chicken, then McDonald’s, then Dairy Queen,” she says. When they hang out, he steers her away from junk food. Later, he takes her to a restaurant where they have roast beef sandwiches on whole wheat bread. He says, “I made her drink a glass of wholesome milk too. The meat was tender and alive with horseradish. Very satisfying. This was a meal.” The narrator takes on the role of nurturer that Yuki’s parents have cast aside, and nourishes her literally and figuratively.

Image: Joseph Nicolia

Murakami often shows his characters preparing meals to convey their independence. In Dance Dance Dance, Yuki’s mother’s boyfriend is a one-armed poet who cuts ham sandwiches so perfectly that the narrator wonders aloud how he slices bread with one hand. In Norwegian Wood, Toru watches Midori in awe as she theatrically prepares lunch one afternoon (“Over here she tasted a boiled dish, and the next second she was at the cutting board, rat-tat-tatting, then she took something out of the fridge and piled it in a bowl, and before I knew it she had washed a pot she had finished using”). Midori had taught herself how to cook in the fifth grade because her mother didn’t take care of household things. When we meet her, she’s essentially an orphan: her mother is dead, her father is dying, and her older sister is engaged. Despite her abandonment, she takes care of herself well.

Cooking meals is more than a signal of independence though, it’s an introspective behavior that provides order to the chaos of the outside world. In 1Q84, the two main characters, Tengo and Aomame, unknowingly enter a dystopian universe where they have no control over their lives. At one point, Tengo is being watched by the aforementioned sketchball Ushikawa and he’s wrapped up in accusations of fraud for ghostwriting a best-selling book. The routine of coming home every day and cooking allows him to step away and make sense of what’s going on around him. He often makes elaborate meals out of whatever’s in his refrigerator. Murakami has said that improvisation is his favorite kind of cooking. In one scene, Tengo makes “rice pilaf using ham and mushrooms and brown rice, and miso soup with tofu and wakame.” Cooking is not a chore for Tengo; he “use[s] it as a time to think “about everyday problems, about math problems, about his writing… he could think in a more orderly fashion while standing in the kitchen and moving his hands than while doing nothing.”

You don’t need to go to therapy to know that food can provide comfort, but for Murakami, comfort is also found in the mindfulness that comes from preparing it. In The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Toru is newly unemployed and spending most of his time cooking and looking for his lost cat. At the beginning of the book, the phone rings while he’s making spaghetti (chapter 1) and a tomato-and-cheese sandwich (chapter 3), and he tries to resist answering it until he finishes preparing his food. “I let the phone ring three times and cut the sandwich in half. Then I transferred it to a plate, wiped the knife, and put that in the cutlery drawer, before pouring myself a cup of coffee I had warmed up. Still the phone went on ringing.” Toru is mindful of each unremarkable step in the sequence; by letting the phone ring, he’s trying to block the outside world from intruding on his routine.

As any casual binge-eater can attest, we sometimes eat to fill a void. In the short story “The Second Bakery Attack,” a newlywed couple wakes up in the middle of the night unbearably hungry. They’ve only been married two weeks and aren’t completely at ease with each other (“we had yet to establish a precise conjugal understanding with regard to the rules of dietary behavior. Let alone anything else.”) Long story short, after unsuccessfully scrounging for food in their kitchen, they drive to McDonald’s to rob it, but instead of demanding money, they demand 30 Big Macs. He eats six, she eats four, and as soon as their hunger vanishes, they feel closer to each other.

Image: OiMax

In Kafka on the Shore, when Kafka runs away from home, he stays at a hotel and eats a big breakfast of toast, hot milk, ham and eggs. It’s a warm, nutritious meal that should fill him up, but he’s not full. As he looks around hopelessly for seconds, the voice in his head (“the boy named Crow”) interjects, “You’re not back home anymore, where you can stuff yourself with whatever you like…you’ve run away from home, right? Get that through your head. You’re used to getting up early and eating a huge breakfast, but those days are long gone, my friend.” He’s just left a cushy but lonely life at his father’s home with the vague intention to “journey to a far-off town and live in a corner of a small library.” He’s chosen a place at random (“Shikoku, I decide. That’s where I’ll go. There’s no particular reason it has to be Shikoku, only that studying the map I got the feeling that’s where I should head.”) He has yet to reach his destination or realize the subconscious reason behind wanting to leave home, but his insatiable hunger is indicative of his itinerancy; it’s like he can’t feel full unless he’s secure.

There is a telling passage in Kafka on the Shore about the myth from Plato’s Symposium, that each person was made out of two people, and then God cut everybody in two so they’d spend their lives trying locate their missing half. This idea — and the corresponding one that humans are inherently lonely — is palpable in many Murakami stories, especially when his characters are eating. Midori and Toru’s courtship in Norwegian Wood takes place over meals. They meet for the first time at a quiet diner near their university: Toru is eating alone (a mushroom omelet and green pea salad) and Midori, who recognizes him from class, leaves her friends and goes over to introduce herself. She asks if she’s interrupting him and he responds point-blank, “No, there’s nothing to interrupt.” The reader realizes that Toru has feelings for Midori when she doesn’t show up to school and he ends up having “a cold, tasteless lunch alone.”

Image: nadja robot

While one relationship is built over sharing meals in Norwegian Wood, another comes undone in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Toru takes care of household duties like grocery shopping and dinner while his wife, Kumiko, is at work. She usually is home at 6:30 p.m., but one night she doesn’t return until 9. Toru starts preparing a stir fry of beef, onions, green peppers, and bean sprouts when she comes home, but as he’s cooking it, she starts a fight with him because he doesn’t know that she “absolutely detest[s] beef stir fried with green peppers.” It’s exactly the kind of irrational fight you start when you’re annoyed at someone and need something to pick at, and it foreshadows their future as a couple. A few chapters later, she doesn’t come home at all, and Toru aimlessly putters around the kitchen and eats breakfast alone. This is more heart-wrenching than it seems: they’ve never once missed breakfast together since they’ve been married — it’s the beginning of the end.

In an “Art of Fiction” interview in the Paris Review, Murakami says his job as a fiction writer is “to observe people and the world, and not to judge them.” He describes with incessant detail his characters eating and preparing food, and their behaviors immediately become familiar to us when we view them through this lens. We’ve all experienced Yuki’s cravings for junk food when we feel empty inside, Tengo’s mesmerizing waves of calmness as we cook dinner at home after a stressful day, and both Torus’ sense of loneliness and yearning when we eat a meal alone that we’d rather be eating with someone we care about.

Murakami uses food to convey universal feelings of comfort, love, partnership, and independence. As Toru observes while eating a cucumber in Norwegian Wood, “It’s good when food tastes good. It makes you feel alive.” That he makes this observation in regards to a zero-calorie vegetable that tastes mostly of water suggests that you can find satisfaction in even the simplest of things. You can eat the cucumber without tasting it, or you can live, and appreciate a refreshing taste hidden beneath bitter skin. We don’t eat to merely survive, we eat to experience life.

Haruki Murakami’s Metaphysics Of Food was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

25 Jan 02:01

In 1895, Ida B. Wells's Wedding Announcement Was on the Front Page of the New York Times

by Aimée Lutkin on Pictorial, shared by Joanna Rothkopf to Jezebel
Image via the National Portrait Gallery.

A journalist, activist, and one of the founding members of the NAACP, Ida B. Wells was born to slaves in 1862 in Holly Springs, Mississippi. She prioritized her work over romantic relationships, but eventually, she did get married, and in a rare turn of events given her background, her wedding was noted in the paper of record.

The New York Times is unearthing and contextualizing notable announcements from their archives in a new recurring series called “Committed”; in this one, reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones (who herself was one of the founders of the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting) opens with some background on Wells’ relationship to Ferdinand L. Barnett, a lawyer and owner of the Chicago Conservator, whom Hannah-Jones characterizes as “‘a race man’ and a fellow feminist.” Though the announcement was just a small blurb on the front page, Hannah-Jones writes that “the nuptials of a black woman, born into slavery 33 years earlier, could make the front page of The Times, speaks to a woman who was, by definition, remarkable.” Ida B. Wells had by that time, however, been doing remarkable things her whole life.

Image via The New York Public Library.

According to the National Women’s Hall of Fame, Wells’s parents died when she was a teenager from yellow fever, and she worked to support her brother and sisters as a schoolteacher in Memphis. While traveling to her job, she was approached by a train conductor who insisted she move from a parlor car to a smoking car reserved for black passengers. She refused, and when he grabbed her, she bit him. Wells brought a suit against the railroad and won in circuit court, though the win was later overturned in the state court.

Her career as a teacher ended when she denounced the educational standards and conditions for black children. She became part owner of the Memphis Star, but was run out of town when she wrote articles about the practice of lynching black men. Hannah-Jones reports that Wells openly said that lynch mobs formed to kill black men after they would have consensual sex with white women, justifying murder by calling them rapists. Wells regularly toured to speak about lynching, and was part of a delegation that went to President McKinley in 1898 to demand action in the lynching of a black postmaster in South Carolina.

Her speaking and writing careers kept her so busy she rescheduled her wedding three times. Hannah-Jones writes that on the day of the wedding, interest in the ceremony was high:

When the day finally came, the 27th of June, 1895, the event was fitting for an icon. “The interest of the public in the affair seemed to be so great that not only was the church filled to overflowing, but the streets surrounding the church were so packed with humanity that it was almost impossible for the carriage bearing the wedding bridal party to reach the church door,” Ms. Wells wrote in her autobiography.

At the wedding, Wells’s bridesmaids reportedly wore “lemon crepe dresses set off with white ribbons,” while she wore a “a white satin trained gown trimmed with orange blossoms.”

Image via The University of Chicago Ida B. Wells Papers.

Wells, who kept her last name following her marriage, had four children. At first, she maintained her touring, but took a break after her second child. Her great-granddaughter, Michelle Duster, has worked to maintain her legacy, according to the AP, and began an effort in 2012 to erect a statue of Wells in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, in honor of the 150th anniversary of her death.

Image via AP.
10 Jan 21:44

Do Cats Like Fried Chicken?

by Christine Friar

An Australian experiment in carnivorous attraction


A parks department in Victoria, Australia is under investigation this week because supervisors finally noticed staff had been using the company credit card for non-parks-related activities. Concerning charges found on the statements include $347 at a jewelry store, $898 at a mountain bike shop, more than $5,000 at a Best Buy-esque home entertainment store, and thousands of dollars at a high-end hotel and spa. All of this seems like some pretty straightforward “we’re going to fire our dumb employees” stuff, but one part of the investigation really stands out to me.

The team also charged $260 at a local KFC over seven visits, and instead of being like, “Hey, we were hungry and got some team lunches,” they’ve made the genius claim that all of the chicken was used to address the nation’s feral cat problem.

According to the Guardian:

A senior Parks Victoria staff member, who did not wish to be named, explained to Guardian Australia that “KFC is widely known to be the most effective bait for luring feral cats”.

The genius of this is that Australia’s cat problem is very real—feral domestic cats were reported to “devour an estimated 75 million animals every day,” and had “wiped out about 28 native Australian species” as of 2015. So if these parks employees were, say, the kind of people who would use government funds in order to solve problems inside of the nation’s parks, they might ostensibly be spending on things like feral cat bait.

In supporting their claim, though, the team has had to make a case for why KFC is effective cat bait, which means that a bunch of Australian doctors and scientists are now weighing in on whether or not cats like fried chicken.

Dr. Alan Robley, a senior scientist with the Arthur Rylah Institute for environmental research in Victoria, explained that, “Fried chicken is included in the national guidelines for trapping feral cats and is used due to its scent and prolonged freshness.”

Dr. Christopher Dickman, a biologist and feral cat expert from the University of Sydney, confirmed “it is a popular bait with a strong aroma that is very attractive to carnivores.” But also, “There hasn’t been any data published on it so the information we have is anecdotal, but it does work for luring feral cats, though mainly in urban areas… Cats in remote areas are more suspicious of new foods, but cats in urban areas are more used to living close to KFC outlets and are familiar with the smell.”

So while that anonymous parks source might have been optimistic with the “widely known” part of their fried chicken explanation, it’s definitely about to be more widely known. Fried chicken: doctor and government-approved cat bait.

Do Cats Like Fried Chicken? was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

03 Jan 22:05

In France, You Really Can Tell Your Boss to Fuck Off on the Weekend

by Maddie Stone on Gizmodo, shared by Aimée Lutkin to Jezebel
Image: Flickr/CC

What’s that? It’s 9pm on a Sunday night and your boss just sent you an email, subject line “URGENT”?

A month ago you would have clicked on the message, saw that he wanted that report first thing in the morning, and hauled your ass out of the blanket nest you’ve been happily stewing in for the last eight hours. But this is 2017, and you live in France. Va te faire foutre, as they say.

From Sunday, French companies are required to guarantee their employees a “right to disconnect” from devices after normal work hours, as part of a broader national effort to tackle “always-on” work culture, The Guardian reports. Overuse of our computers and smartphones, including compulsive after-hours email checking, has been blamed for everything from anxiety to sleeplessness to “info-obesity,” a fancy-sounding term France apparently made up to describe yet another familiar syndrome, “burnout.”

“All the studies show there is far more work-related stress today than there used to be, and that the stress is constant,” former French education minister Benoit Hamon told the BBC in May. “Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash—like a dog.”

Under the new law, companies with over fifty workers are required to open negotiations with employees to agree on their rights to unplug. Any company that can’t reach a deal with its workers is compelled to make after-hours expectations explicit.

The legal right to say “fuck you, boss” after hours was packaged as part of a sweeping and controversial French labor reform effort. Similar email amendments have been introduced in both France and Germany before, but until now, none had been signed into law.

The catch, according to the BBC, is that companies are expected to comply with the email rule on a voluntary basis. Time will tell how effective a labor measure with no enforcement is—but hey, at least France is trying to do something about the problem. Here in America, we’re just slowly replacing meals with algae to fit in more email time.

[The Guardian, BBC]

22 Dec 03:47

Björk Excels At Everything But Still Gets Shat On By Sexists

by Julianne Escobedo Shepherd
Image via Getty

Last weekend, Björk was a featured guest at Houston’s Day for Night, a multimedia arts and music festival lynchpinned by Björk Digital, her traveling massive art installation that uses virtual reality to immerse fans in her world. In addition to that, she played not one but two DJ sets on a line-up full of male DJs and electronic musicians, which seems to me like a pretty generous use of her time and labor! Apparently, though, some media attacked her for the basic act of DJing, something they didn’t do to the guys, and so she’s posted an open letter about how that is baldly sexist bullshit.

“!!!! happy winter solstice !!!” she begins, with characteristic charm and enthusiasm. (That’s four exclamation points before, three after.) And then:

last weekend i djd twice at a festival in texas . it was a magical event with some of my favorite musicians djing : aphex twin , arca , oneoh trixpoint never and matmos ... the list is endless !!

most of us played mostly other peoples music and would slide in instrumentals of what weve been working on recently

i am aware of that it is less of a year since i started djing publicly so this is something people are still getting used to and my fans have been incredibly welcoming to me sharing my musical journey and letting me be me . its been so fun and the nerd in me editing together pieces of others peoples songs for weeks , gets to share the different coordinates i feel between some of the most sublime music i know .

but some media could not get their head around that i was not “performing” and “hiding” behind desks . and my male counterparts not . and i think this is sexism . which at the end of this tumultuous year is something im not going to let slide : because we all deserve maximum changes in this revolutionary energy we are currently in the midst of.

While I couldn’t personally find the media report mentioning desks, I did see several reviews that lamented her DJing—which is kinda like the STEM of musicianship—rather than performing her music; specifically, songs from 2015's Vulnicura, her most straightforwardly emotional album. Björk addressed that, too:

women in music are allowed to be singer songwriters singing about their boyfriends . if they change the subject matter to atoms , galaxies , activism , nerdy math beat editing or anything else than being performers singing about their loved ones they get criticized : journalists feel there is just something missing ... as if our only lingo is emo ...

i made volta and biophilia conscious of the fact that these were not subjects females usually write about . i felt i had earned it . on the activist volta i sang about pregnant suicide bombers and for the independence of faroe islands and greenland . on the pedagogic biophilia i sang about galaxies and atoms but it wasnt until vulnicura where i shared a heartbreak i got full acceptance from the media . men are allowed to go from subject to subject , do sci fi , period pieces , be slapstick and humorous , be music nerds getting lost in sculpting soundscapes but not women . if we dont cut our chest open and bleed about the men and children in our lives we are cheating our audience .

So basically, Björk, one of the most inventive pop musicians of our time, has been pushing music forward in a visibly drastic fashion for 39 years, writing albums about freakin’ atoms and putting together art that relies on the cutting edge of technology before anyone else in popular music deigns to try. But dudes are mad if she’s not singing about her breakup. Which, though she is 51 and accomplished enough to be exempt from this kind of bullshit—not exempt from artistic critique, of course, if it’s merited, but definitely exempt from bullshit—it affected her enough this week that she felt she had to speak out. As she notes, she rarely does so, preferring to stay focused primarily on her artistry. Even Björk, though, a grown woman and visionary who is constantly infantilized and otherized because of her spirit and nationality, gets sick of this shit! Kudos to her for snapping on ‘em.

She ends her note:

lets make 2017 the year where we fully make the transformation !!!

!!! the right to variety for all the girls out there !!!

22 Dec 02:33

Meet the Brave, Audacious, Astonishing Women Who Built the Standing Rock Movement 

by Anna Merlan
The “flag road” at Oceti Sakowin . Photo by Tod Seelie for Jezebel

BISMARCK, NORTH DAKOTA—In April, Joye Braun left her home in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, and moved—first into a tipi, then into a yurt. She’s rarely returned home since. You would expect her to sound exhausted, but on a recent December day, with freezing, punishing winds whipping across the plains and snowdrifts piling up around her, she was exuberant. “This isn’t my first rodeo,” she said, laughing.

Braun is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe and a community organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network. Cheyenne River’s territory borders that of the Standing Rock Sioux, and Braun came in April to help build the movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline. That movement was a historic, sustained civil rights action that led to real change: On December 4, the Army Corps of Engineers blocked the portion of the project that was near Standing Rock land by denying an easement requested by Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind it. ETP has been ordered by the Army Corps to seek an alternate route.

It’s not an exaggeration or flattery or romanticism to say that women built the Standing Rock movement, and will sustain it through whatever fight is yet to come. Braun is one of a group of organized, dedicated, phenomenally tough Native women who spent months living outdoors and engaging in direct action to kill the “black snake,” as they often refer to it, and who are prepared to keep fighting ETP even if they refuse to stop drilling in violation of the Army Corps’ orders. (ETP said in a press release they expect to finish the disputed portion of the project, but didn’t provide a timeline or openly confirm that they’ll keep working in violation of the easement denial.)

Women have comprised the majority of the “water protectors” (the term coined by another IEN organizer, Dallas Goldtooth). The International Indigenous Youth Council for Standing Rock was founded by a young woman named Jaslyn Charger. Women led numerous demonstrations at the site, standing toe-to-toe against police from all over the country and private security hired by ETP. At the hands of law enforcement, they endured threats, tear gas, rubber bullets, freezing cold water from pressure hoses, mass arrests, and forced strip searches when being taken into custody on minor charges. Along with male and non-Native allies, they’ve faced what they say is a campaign of legal intimidation, but the most serious charges were levied against Red Fawn Fallis, a 37-year-old Native woman charged with “attempted murder of a police officer.” (The charges were dropped without explanation in late November.) The most serious injury sustained at Standing Rock was by a non-Native woman, Sophia Wilansky, whose family says police threw a grenade at her and nearly severed her arm. (Law enforcement has accused demonstrators of throwing explosives.)

LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux and the former tribal historian, owns the land that Sacred Stone Camp rests on, one of the water protectors’ largest encampments. Allard’s family has been in North Dakota since the 1800s, and she’s been a driving force in the Standing Rock campaign. “I come from a long line of bigmouthed women,” she says. “My grandma, my mom—they always stood up.”

The pipeline was her time to stand up, she adds. “I’m the closest landowner. It’s me who’s first facing the devastation of the pipeline, having to face those people.”

The fight was even more personal than land ownership for Allard. She has 18 grandchildren and gave birth to three sons.

“My one son is buried on top of the hill,” she says evenly. “Nobody’s going to put a pipeline next to my son’s grave.”

Standing Rock’s women activists weren’t militants or “extremists” or “paid agitators,” as Energy Transfer Partners has variously claimed, and they weren’t just from North Dakota. Amber Morningstar Byars, 31, is an artist from Santa Fe, New Mexico, and part of the Oklahoma band of the Choctaw nation. She plans to attend law school after finishing a Bachelor’s degree in Indigenous Studies, but first, she found time to travel to Standing Rock twice this year. The first time, she participated in prayer and peaceful protest. “We went up to the burial grounds and the sacred sites that were dug up by Dakota Access. We prayed. We just prayed. We all sang to our ancestors and asked them to watch over us and our sites and help us win this uphill battle.”

When Byars returned in November, she was laden with $8,000 worth of supplies and donations she raised through a GoFundMe campaign: “I rented a 20-foot U-Haul and filled it with five cords of wood, medical supplies, donations, food.”

That trip, she was also one of a group of demonstrators who were attacked by police with tear gas and water hoses on November 20, in one of the ugliest incidents of this winter.

“I’ve never been exposed to such violence,” she says. Byars was teargassed, and still suffering from the after-effects weeks later. “We’re calling it black snake lung.” She tried to go for a run a few days after returning. “I was hacking up pieces of my lungs. I can still taste that chemical taste in my mouth and my nasal cavities. My clothes are ruined.”

Byars says she and others suffered from chemical burns on portions of their skin that was exposed. “We were just contaminated. This is real. Nothing could’ve prepared me for that. I knew what I was getting into when I went up there and aware of the consequences, but there’s nothing that can prepare you for that kind of violence.”

Native women were also among the thousands of veterans who descended on the camp recently to support the water protectors. Marisa Van Zile lives in Michigan and is an enrolled member of the Sakogowan Chippewa. She joined the Army as a 27-year-old single mom looking for a reliable way to provide for her family, and recently completed an eight-year contract. She visited Standing Rock on several occasions, traveling with both other Native women and other vets.

When Van Zile got the news that the Army Corps had decided against Energy Transfer Partners, she saw it as “not a bad thing,” but not necessarily the jubilant victory described in the media. When the news came, she had just finished bringing donations over to the Sacred Stone camp with a group of other women before breaking for lunch.

“I got a little bit of cell reception and could check Facebook and I seen the announcement,” she says. “We just ate our bologna sandwiches. I said, ‘We might as well have two pieces then.’ That’s kinda how we treated it. Just shook our heads up and down: ‘Let’s finish and get these donations taken care of.’ That’s how it felt. It didn’t feel like my heart started fluttering or anything. It’s not bad but I’m not gonna start crying. It wasn’t that emotional for me.”

Van Zile’s tribe fought environmentally destructive mining practices for years, she points out. “My tribe battled these big mining companies for almost three decades. I know what this feels like. I was born into this.” As such, she’s used to companies finding ways around the law, and the government turning a blind eye. “You can’t just take somebody’s word. You have to watch.”

Van Zile points out, too, that other Native-led environmental movements aren’t getting the attention that Standing Rock has garnered. “Indigenous people all over the world have similar battles going on, against things that are devastating the land and the water and cultures.” She points to the Wisconsin-based Ho-Chunk nation, who have been fighting to keep their ancestral burial mounds intact even as mining companies try to destroy them to reach copper deposits underneath, or mining under the Menominee River, damaging the ancestral lands and water of the Menominee tribe.

“Standing rock, the Menominee River, I take them all personally,” she says. She sees them as a religious and spiritual struggle as much as a political one.

“The one thing we have is prayer,” she says. “That’s one thing my dad told me. We don’t have all the money in the world but we have prayer. What’s going on at Standing Rock proves that prayer works. What happened with my tribe, prayer works.”

LaDonna Brave Bull Allard (C) of Cannon Ball, North Dakota, talks with Maj. Gen. Donald Jackson of the Army Corps of Engineers during a demonstration against the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline outside the Corps headquarters November 15, 2016 in Washington, DC. Photo via Getty

Allard, the owner of the land where Sacred Stone is located, agrees with Van Zile that the movement at Standing Rock isn’t over, and that it connects with broader environmental issues.

“The simple fact is that the black snake is not dead,” she says. “It cannot go through the water. It cannot go through the water anywhere. I don’t care if they move it ten miles up, 50 miles up, 50 miles down, it cannot go through the water.”

Allard also isn’t surprised that women took control of the water protector movement. “Because it’s our responsibility,” she says. “Our responsibility for life. We don’t have a choice.”

“I don’t know of any man that’s standing up,” she adds, witheringly. “They sit in camp and talk about themselves.” A moment later, she softens that a bit: “Let me clarify that. We have a lot of male allies who came and stood with us. Our native allies, the people that came from all areas to stand with us, they are very respectful, very powerful, and I honor them every day.”

Allard says that “overwhelming people” have come to join the movement: “When we first opened the camp, I said anybody was welcome, anybody who would stand with me. I don’t care how you pray, how you look, as you long come stand and pray.”

Those people, she says, plan to say “for the long haul, until the pipeline is gone. So we still have a lot of work to do. Someone asked me the other day when is this ended? When every pipe is out of the ground and the work is ended.”

Joye Braun, the community organizer, sees Native women as having an innate and spiritual connection to water that informs their environmental activism.

“Women, we’re life-givers,” she says. “Whether it’s about the Keystone XL pipeline, [proposed Canadian pipeline] Energy East, uranium mining, mountaintop removal, it all affects water. We start life in water, in the womb.”

In the midst of the fight against the now-defeated Keystone XL pipeline, Braun says her 22-year-old daughter, who suffers from tonic clonic seizures, had what their family consider to be a prophetic vision.

“In our culture, those who have epilepsy can see things that no one sees,” she explains. “She was telling me that the snakes were coming.” Her daughter saw “the water on fire, and the earth on fire,” and a line of people marching against the snakes.

“The women were standing in front,” she says. “And then behind the women were the men and behind the men was the nachan [chiefs] and behind them were the children. And behind the children were the animals. Four legged and winged and swimming things that don’t have a voice.”

Braun says her daughter isn’t alone in having visions or dreams about women’s place in the Standing Rock movement, and the broader Native fight against environmental atrocities. “Lots of people had dreams and visions out there where the women are in front,” she said, quietly, from her yurt, as the snow continued to fall. “It has always been the women.”

06 Sep 11:45

The First Indigenous Woman Elected To The House Of Reps Has Delivered A Powerful Maiden Address

by Tom Clift

Labor MP Linda Burney has used her moving first speech in Federal Parliament to call for the constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians, while also condemning those who would seek to water down the Racial Discrimination Act.

The new member for the NSW seat of Barton and first ever Aboriginal woman to be elected to the House of Representatives, Burney entered the Lower House wearing a cloak made by fellow Wiradjuri woman Lynette Riley, who also sung a traditional song from the public gallery.

“I was born at a time when the Australian Government knew how many sheep there were but not how many Aboriginal people. I was 10 years old before the 1967 referendum fixed that,” said Burney. “I’d ask all of those listening this afternoon to imagine what it was to be a 13 year old Aboriginal girl in a school classroom, taught that her ancestors were the closest thing to stone age man in existence and struggling with your identity.”

Five Reasons The New Parliament Is Going To Be An Absolute Mess

Burney spoke about the power of reconciliation, calling Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generation “one of the most remarkable moments of my life.”

“As the words rang out across this chamber, this land and around the world, ‘for this we are sorry’, the country cried, and began to breathe again,” she said.

“Members, in this term of parliament I want to stand in this place knowing that the document on which it is founded finally tells the truth,” she continued. “Recognition of the First People in our nation’s constitution is the next step in the path we are walking towards a country that can look itself in the eye, knowing that we have come of age.”

A former school teacher, Burney also touched on the importance of education, and said that the government must commit to specific goals such as raising the birth-weight of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and reducing the rate of juvenile incarceration. “We cannot be satisfied that this is a fair country while so many of our young people are locked up, most of them Indigenous,” she said. “There is no justification for the incarceration of a 10-year-old.”

Burney went on to speak out against the efforts of some conservatives to walk back anti-discrimination laws, saying that “too often these calls to amend the Racial Discrimination Act come from those from whom this kind of discrimination is totally alien.”

She concluded her speech with a message to young Indigenous Australians. “If I can stand in this place, so can they,” she said. “Never let anyone tell you you are limited by anything.”

Feature image via Linda Burney/Twitter

The post The First Indigenous Woman Elected To The House Of Reps Has Delivered A Powerful Maiden Address appeared first on Junkee.

02 Sep 15:37

Other Countries Don’t Just Offer Paid Parental Leave. They Make It Work.

by Ester Bloom

How do our fellow nations do what seems so impossible here?


We know that being a working mom in America is a joke, the kind of joke that makes you ugly cry in a public bathroom stall while you pump and try to compose an email on your phone at the same time. Women know that we can be fired during our maternity leaves, like Michelle Tan of Seventeen, or not hired at all lest we get pregnant and divert precious start-up dollars away from more important priorities like in-office stripper parties.

We know that, in certain states, we have a terrifying, and rising, maternal mortality rate.

Texas Is One of the Most Dangerous Places in the Developed World to Have a Baby

And we know that, should we get pregnant, the odds are overwhelming that we won’t get any kind of paid leave at all, so any time we need to spend recovering from the physical trauma of labor and delivery, let alone nurturing a newborn creature which is about as easy-to-handle and self-sustaining as a trout out of water, will come at a very real cost. As ScaryMommy’s senior editor recently put it, “we spread ourselves so thin we’re ready to dissolve.”

Other countries, from Angola to Zimbabwe, make paid leave possible! How?? What are the ups and the downs? Let’s take a look at a few other countries that, despite having way less money than America does, have their shit together.


Moms get 90 days of paid leave at 100% salary after which many of them they can take advantage of day cares on the premises, and moms without on-site childcare get an additional four weeks (albeit unpaid).

[also] the employee is entitled to time off from work, for up to 1 day a month, during pregnancy and until 15 months after delivery, to provide child care to her and her child.

The employer pays for the leave and is reimbursed by Social Security.

Bosnia & Herzegovina

New moms are entitled to one full year of paid leave. Also, the rules state that “a woman may take shorter maternity leave, however, not shorter than 42 days after delivery.”

Did you catch that? Women must take a leave of at least 42 days. Here, 25% of new moms have no choice but to limp back to work after only 2 weeks.


14 weeks, paid. Dads get 8 days, paid.


We’re not going to talk about Finland. It’s too upsetting.


Up to THREE YEARS at about 65% salary, funded by the state, plus numerous other benefits and protections. And moms who weren’t part of the FT labor force before reproducing are still entitled to a parental allowance from the state.

As an employee, you are entitled to parental leave until your child’s turns three. You are not obliged to work during this period. Your job remains open to you and your contract cannot be terminated by your employer. Parental leave can be taken by the mother and father individually or jointly. Grandparents may also be entitled to parental leave if the parent is still a minor or is in the final or penultimate year of a training course that was commenced when the young parent was still a minor. The grandparents only have a claim for periods during which neither of the child’s parents is taking up parental leave themselves.


Three months, paid.


70 days before childbirth and 56 days afterwards, paid, as well as up to three years unpaid.


18 weeks, paid for by the Government via Social Security.

The nitty gritty is kind of interesting:

In accordance with the Maternity Leave Trust Fund, launched by the government on 6 July 2015, employers will pay the equivalent of 0.3 per cent of the basic pay for every employee, irrespective of gender and age, to establish a fund from which maternity leave will be paid. Main objective of this Trust Fund is to end discrimination where employers engage more men than women to avoid the payment of wages during maternity leave.

Moms also enjoy free pre- and post-natal medical care.


Ninety-eight days, divided between late pregnancy and postpartum, paid for by Social Security. Also subsidized healthcare for her throughout the process, as well as her new baby.

South Africa

At least four months, paid for by the state. The law stipulates that “workers may not go back to work within 6 weeks after the birth unless their doctor or midwife say it is safe.” If you miscarry late or if your child isn’t born alive, you may still claim six weeks of pay.


Having worked six months, a woman is entitled to 84 days, paid. Under certain circumstances, her employer must also foot the hospital bill.


Six months at 100% pay, subsidized by Social Insurance.

In May 2013, Vietnam increased the duration its maternity leave. Female workers are now entitled to six months of maternity leave as opposed to the four months that they used to be entitled to. If a female employee has more than one child, she is also entitled to an extra 30 days for each additional child. With this increase, Vietnam’s maternity leave period is among the longest in Asia. Only five other Asian countries either meet or exceed the 14-week International Labor Organization (ILO) standard. …
Maternal subsidies may differ from company to company. However, it often times equals to the salary of two months before leaving for birth.


Women who have worked for an employer for a full year qualify for 98 days of leave at full pay. A little weirder: something called “compulsory leave” kicks in “at least 21 days before confinement.”

What can we learn from this?

  • It can be better to be a pregnant woman in Tanzania than in Texas.
  • GDP has little to do with how generous various nations are when it comes to maternity leave policy. Kazakhstan, for example, is 50th worldwide in terms of GDP, while the US is 1st. It still makes this work.
  • Lots of countries turn to their national version of Social Security to fund, or help employers fund, paid maternity leaves. For the most part, employers are not expected to handle the cost of subsidizing pregnant employees on their own.
  • In numerous countries, leave can, or sometimes must, begin while women are still pregnant. That is at worst patronizing and at best a recognition of how debilitating late-stage gestation can be. With my most recent pregnancy, I worked until the Friday before my due date because I felt like I had to. But not everybody can — and the stress, frankly, isn’t good for anyone.
  • If Angola can make paid maternity leave happen, America can.

Other Countries Don’t Just Offer Paid Parental Leave. They Make It Work. was originally published in The Billfold on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Read the responses to this story on Medium.

31 Aug 08:44

How to Talk to a Woman Who Is Trying to Take a Dump

by Joanna Rothkopf
How to Talk to a Woman Who Is Trying to Take a Dump
Image via GongTo/Shutterstock.

These days, many women walk into public bathrooms with bowels full of digested sandwiches (ew) and salads (nice) with the end goal of taking a satisfying shit.

Yet, that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to them.…

Of course, not all women are open to being approached because not all women are single and looking. Some are married (but even they aren’t totally off-limits) and some are icy bitches who will stomp on your foot and report you to your Home Depot floor manager.

However, if a woman walking into a bathroom hoping to take a monster crap is single and hoping to meet a boyfriend (or even a new lover), she will almost always be happy to hold it in indefinitely to give you an opportunity to eject your fragile masculinity all over her.

Her acknowledging your grunts on the way to the porcelain throne doesn’t always mean that she is super interested and wants you to ask her for her number or anything serious like that. Sometimes, it’s simply a case of you physically blocking her path.

If you are able to create a spark with her and build up her attraction and interest for you, she might then be interested in giving you what turns out to be a fake number, or in ignoring civility and releasing her bowels all over the floor.

Here’s how a woman’s attraction for a man works when she is attempting to take care of her biological needs and how you can use that to get what you want more than just a quick conversation with you...

What to Do to Get Her Attention

1. Stand directly in front of the bathroom door (maybe one foot in front of it so you don’t look like a fucking freak).

2. Wear a smile that says, “I’m feeling calm now, but that could change at any second.”

3. If she hasn’t already looked up at you (how dare she?), simply get her attention by blocking the entire door with your body and yelling, “Hey slut!”

4. When she looks up at you, probably thrilled to be getting some male attention, gesture to your stomach and say, “Hold it in for a second,” and pretend to be holding it in, so she, a human with the intelligence of a puppy, can understand.

If she doesn’t understand (or, perhaps, won’t, because she’s recently heard the term “feminism” and is confused), simply gesture that you want to court her for sex at your spare but frightening apartment that you share with a Craigslist goblin.

In most cases, you won’t have to go to that extreme because girls don’t feel whole unless a man is looking at them, so you’re actually doing her a favor, but some girls have real gastrointestinal disorders and will be hesitant to delay their explosive diarrhea because they are feeling nervous or excited about what is happening.

5. Then, do what we call “Acknowledging the Awkwardness” by quickly noting that you recognize that she’s probably prairie dogging right now, and that the entrance to a public restroom isn’t the sexiest place to pick up a girl, but also that your agenda is more important than hers, and also girls shouldn’t even be pooping outside the home anyway.

What to Say When She Says “What the Fuck Do You Want?”

You: [Smile again in your trademark “I’m not a stalker” way] :) Hey—I know it’s not normal to talk someone who is clearly in digestive distress, but I’ve been staking out this bathroom for four hours waiting for a pretty girl to be vulnerable, and here you are. I’m Rick, what’s your name?

Woman: Fuck off, please.

You: [Add in some humor to get her smiling and create a spark between you] Cool... Nice to meet you “Fuck off, please.”

Woman: [Probably laughing and having a great time. If she hasn’t stripped nude, she will soon.]

Common Mistakes Guys Make When Approaching Women Who Are Trying to Vacate Their Bowels in Peace

1. Giving up too easily

If she senses that you’ll be cool if she tells you to put one “up yours,” she definitely will. If they are scared of you, on the other hand, they’ll do whatever you want.

2. Letting her go into the bathroom alone

Sure, if she has to really drop a deuce (and isn’t lying about it as an excuse to leave the conversation), let her. But you should always follow her into the bathroom and stand either outside the stall or sit in the stall right next to her’s and make charming conversation while she’s doing her business. If you succeed, that’s not the only business she’ll do that day (sex, or at minimum, a quick tug).

3. Being polite

It’s a fact—girls like mean guys.

How to Talk to a Woman Who Is Trying to Take a Dump: The Secret

The key to talking to a woman who is trying to take a dump (or pee pee, or give birth, or who is in the midst of a demonic possession) is to have the right attitude and behavior when you approach her.

The right attitude is to be confident and oblivious-seeming, so that if she thinks your come-on is bafflingly invasive, you can default to ignorance. This is a good tactic because if she calls the police, you can say, “It’s all a big misunderstanding, officer,” and be mostly telling the truth. This works 99 percent of the time.

Of course, virtually every woman who is trying in earnest to enter a bathroom is not in the mood to be picked up. However, you can only find that out by starting a conversation and seeing whether or not she shits on your Chacos.

Who knows, she might just be your perfect girl.

22 Aug 12:13

The Anne Boleyn Theory of Funny Women

by Rosa Lyster

She wasn’t mysterious or magic, she was a riot.

The Anne Boleyn Theory began as all the best things do: on gchat. Here we are, my friend Frith and I, trying to figure out why we weren’t cool at university:

Frith: For me, being cool still means being very thin and having an even featured face upon which you express very little.
Rosa: Yes, and great wells of self-restraint
Rosa: Oh my god. You know why we weren’t cool. It’s cos we are both funny.
Frith: Oh my god. Funny girls aren’t cool.
Rosa: This is the realest thing either of us have ever said.

This is the beginning of the Anne Boleyn theory. Stay with us.

Rosa: I don’t mean to Harp, but funniness is so MASSIVELY undervalued in women.
Frith: I have never heard you described as funny, even though that is literally the main thing you are.
Rosa: Oh my god. Think of all the times that a man has described you as “magical”, and all the times they have said “there is just something about you. You have this ineffable quality.”
Rosa: The quality they are describing is called
Rosa: Being GOOD AT JOKES.

Here comes Anne Boleyn, so look alive.

Frith: but this is surely the answer to ‘how did clever plain Anne Boleyn make the king and half the court fall madly in love with her?’ They said she cast a spell. She weaved magic. NO NO. She had good jokes. ANNE BOLEYN MADE HENRY VIII DIE OF LOLS.
Rosa: “what is your enigmatic and somewhat sinister appeal?!”
Frith: you magical, sweet angel. What is it about you? What is this pull you have on me.
Rosa: you just have a way about you. I cannot understand it.
Frith: I feel like we need to email Hilary Mantel and tell her we have figured out Anne Boleyn.

Don’t act like you don’t know what we’re talking about. This is a thing. There are many, many dudes out there in the world who are not too crazy about funny women, or at least they think they aren’t. Stay with us. They have it fixed in their heads that funny girls aren’t cool, or that they are sort of coarse, or brash, or inelegant, or maybe they have some kind of terrible addiction problem a la Dorothy Parker. In other words, the idea is that they might be funny, but it comes at a high cost. The idea is that a woman can be attractive, or she can be funny, but she can never be both. There are people who think this. You know this is true.

Remember that Christopher Hitchens article in Vanity Fair? Remember how it was called “Why Women Aren’t Funny”? His whole bit was that men were funny because they had to be, because how else would they get any lady to sleep with them? Women, then, weren’t funny because they didn’t need to be. They had “the whole male world at their mercy” and so why bother with lols? It is unnecessary to even offer a rebuttal to this idea here, except to say that it is the most joyless conception of humour I have ever encountered. Imagine thinking it was only necessary to haul out the laughs when you were trying to get someone to have sex with you. Isn’t that sad? Isn’t that just the worst? I am of the opinion that laughter is the entire point of being alive, so I struggle to understand how someone would think this way.

Why Women Aren't Funny

The substance of the Anne Boleyn theory is that there are some men who think that calling a woman funny also means saying that she is Uncool, or Not Mysterious, and especially Not Sexy. Funniness is undervalued in women, and so some men fail to register the quality when they come across it. Think of all those men in the court of Henry VIII, moping around Anne Boleyn, playing stupid instruments to get her attention, finding her peacock hearts to eat.

I mean right?

They are all absolutely desperate to sleep with her. They are behaving like the most appalling show-offs, competing with each other to get her to look at their dumb faces, and they are beginning to resent her. They come away from a meeting with her feeling just sick with love, just nauseated by it, and they are trying to work out why. Is it because she is so pretty? No, she is actually quite pinched and has an unnaturally long neck. Is it because she is so kind? Absolutely not. Well-dressed? No one cares about that. Good at the piano? Please. Sewing? Lol. Can make up boring poems in French? Stop it. Funny? Cue the screeching of brakes

The only logical conclusion is that she is MAGIC. She is a glorious pixie wizard. She has harnessed the power of the moon, or some bullshit. She has all the cats in the world dancing to her demonic tune. The men in the court of Henry VIII would rather call Anne Boleyn a goddamn witch rather than just buck up and admit that she is a fucking riot and she makes them all scream with laughter 24 hours a day.

I wasn’t actually in attendance at the court of Henry VIII, so I cannot state the above as fact, but I know in my heart that it’s true. I can offer my own anecdotal experience in support of this theory. Every boyfriend I have ever had has at some point called me “enigmatic”. Also charismatic, also magical, also different from anyone else that they have ever met. I am, it should go without saying, the least enigmatic person on the planet. I am the world’s most open book. I have no magical qualities to speak of, and I am of course in no way different from many thousands of other women just exactly like me. What these sweet lovely men were actually trying to tell me is that I made them laugh. They just had no other means of expressing it, because this shitty, godawful excuse for a culture has told them that Women Aren’t Funny.

I’m so sure that I’m right about this. My only other option is to believe that I am a lower species of witch, and who wants to do that? Think about all the times you have heard a man say, “she’s so funny as well” — like oh this bizarre, extraneous quality like a dog that is very loyal but also for some reason can type…no one needs the dog to type. See what I mean?

This is life-changing stuff. It is too late for me and all those dudes who called me enigmatic, but I am circulating this theory in the hope that others will find some use for it. Next time a man calls you Quirky, or informs you that you are In Your Own World, or that you make them feel a certain way and they don’t understand it, they are dying inside, what you must do is sit them down and say “Listen, pal. That quality you are referring to? It’s called being an absolute SCREAM. It’s called a GSOH.” They will shake their heads, maybe. They will say No, it’s not that. You just have this special quality. You have moonbeams in your hair and so on. Persist. Gently correct. You will be doing the world a great service. The ghost of Anne Boleyn will thank you.

The Anne Boleyn Theory of Funny Women was originally published in The Hairpin on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Read the responses to this story on Medium.

22 Aug 10:23

Introducing ‘Ella’: The Story Of The Australian Ballet’s First Indigenous Dancer

by Glenn Dunks

This is a review from the 2016 Melbourne International Film Festival. Check out more of our coverage here.

If Ella Havelka’s name is unfamiliar, then you might know her as the first indigenous dancer to be selected for the Australian Ballet. If not, you’ll definitely know more about her after this local documentary by Douglas Watkins. Ella follows the dancer’s career to date — one which started, as many presumably did, with a viewing of a VHS copy of Swan Lake.

A descendant of the Wiradjuri people, Havelka dedicated her youth to the pursuit of her dream — an unfamiliar one for many Aboriginal men and women. Ella follows the dancer as she leaves the National Ballet School for the famed Bangarra Dance Theatre and eventually to the Australian Ballet where her dream of performing Swan Lake is at the tip of her en pointe toes.

Most importantly for a documentary, Havelka’s is a story that needs to be told so one can forgive director Watkins choosing to keep things simple. While it would have been nice to see a more visually impressionistic take on her story, there is nevertheless some excellent editing and wonderful cinematography on display.

The film’s most interesting passages are actually those of Ella at Bangarra, a venue that allows her to more deeply connect with her ancestry which leads to the film’s most rewarding passages. The dances that she’s involved with at this point of her career are by far the more interesting from purely an aesthetic point of view, but also from an intellectual one. These beautifully filmed performances and the discussion around them are especially interesting viewing for local audiences; it makes me wish a trip to a Bangarra performance was on the compulsory curriculum for every Australian high school.

These sequences work as a fine compliment to Spear, the non-traditional dance feature from earlier this year that was directed by Bangarra’s Artistic Director Stephen Page (who appears as a talking head in Ella) and starring Cleverman’s Hunter Page-Lochard).

It’s only to be expected then that later sequences suffer somewhat in comparison. As wonderful as it is to see Havelka achieve her dream of performing Swan Lake on stage, it’s hard not to note that in the background company role her immense talent feels somewhat wasted. A sequence at the Australian Ballet where she performs her own choreography is far beyond her work in Swan Lake, and one of the interviewees even questions whether she has a future at the company or should utilise these talents elsewhere.

Maybe there is a sequel to be made in where she goes next, but at least for now Ella is a nicely assembled look at somebody whose name ought to be much more familiar.

Ella will be at the MIFF Travelling Film Festival later this year. You can read more about Ella Havelka here.

Glenn Dunks is a freelance writer from Melbourne. He also works as an editor and a film festival programmer while tweeting too much at @glenndunks.

The post Introducing ‘Ella’: The Story Of The Australian Ballet’s First Indigenous Dancer appeared first on Junkee.

09 Aug 14:23

How To Hold A Grudge

by Sara Lautman

(After wikihow)

Be calm and confident when picking up the Grudge.

Support the Grudge’s head with one arm and its body with another.

Make chest-to-chest contact with the Grudge.

Grudges are instinctively soothed by the sound and sensation of your heartbeat.

Try the face-to-face hold. This is great for interacting with your Grudge.

Gaze into your Grudge’s eyes. Make silly faces. Enjoy bonding with your cute Grudge.

A belly hold is ideal for calming your Grudge when she’s being fussy.

Share babble, songs, and silly conversations with your Grudge.

Vocalizing together is an important step toward imprinting and attachment.

When it’s time for a feeding, the “football” hold is a comfortable choice for both you and your Grudge.

Once your Grudge is a little older (around four to six months), she should be able to steadily support her own head.

Use a hip hold to liberate one of your arms. Now you’re free to multitask.

How To Hold A Grudge was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Read the responses to this story on Medium.

29 Jul 10:40

Web Design in 4 Minutes

by Geoff Graham

Jeremy Thomas explains web design (the basic applying style to content part) through an interactive step-by-step walkthrough. I could see this being an ah-ha moment for plenty of folks in the early stages of understanding web design.

Direct Link to ArticlePermalink

Web Design in 4 Minutes is a post from CSS-Tricks

26 Jul 09:02

A Very Loving Taxonomy Of ABC’s ‘The Late Show’

by Max Olijnyk

This week we’re celebrating the very best of Australian TV. You can check out our list of The 60 Greatest Australian TV Shows Of All Time right here.

The Late Show was only on TV between 1992 and ’93, but it made a huge impact on me. In tandem with Twin Peaks, which was showing at the same time, I think it really solidified my 16-year-old understanding of the world; it set the bar for the culture I consumed and hoped to create myself.

Now, everyone loves Twin Peaks, with good reason, and you might be questioning my putting The Late Show on an equally high pedestal. But both shows held a sort of magic; something transcendent that elevated them above anything else I had seen before. And the fact The Late Show was made in Melbourne, which was only a six hour drive away from the little country town where I lived, made it all the more potent and incredible.

For the uninitiated, The Late Show was a sketch comedy show, performed by the members of the Melbourne University-spawned comedy group the D-Generation, the ones who didn’t go to the occasionally brilliant but generally mediocre Fast Forward. It felt like the ABC just gave these guys a studio, a basic crew and a few cameras, and then left them alone to do what they liked. The cast members were: Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Jane Kennedy, Tony Martin, Mick Molloy, Rob Sitch and Jason Stephens, and Judith Lucy for the second season. They had a great group dynamic and they all brought out different aspects of each other’s characters, but some of them were funnier than others.

Mick Molloy

Mick was the bad boy of the group, and although he behaved like the dumb bullies at my school, he seemed to be involved in all of my favourite bits. Mick was undoubtedly a natural clown, and a perfect foil to the more cerebral humour of, say, Tony Martin or Rob Sitch. He had an amazing dynamic with Judith Lucy, who was a similarly natural clown, but much angrier and infinitely smarter. I always wondered if those two had a thing going – there were definitely sparks there.

Santo Cilauro

The eminently likeable Santo was also implicit in many of the best moments in the show. He was, of course, one half of Graham and the Colonel with Rob – the ‘no-holds-barred, no beg your pardons’ sports commentator duo that closed off every episode. These guys told a lot of crap sports jokes and spent the whole time throwing sheets of paper over their shoulders while trying to keep a straight face, which was the point of the whole bit (and possibly the whole show). “Dufflecoat Supreme” is still the best name for a racehorse I’ve ever heard. My friend Sam once found a dufflecoat by the brand Supreme in an op-shop and bought it as a tribute, even if it was three sizes too big for him. He gave it to me, and I appreciated the gesture.

Rob Sitch

Come to think of it, most of my favourite parts of The Late Show were based around Rob Sitch trying to keep a straight face. His impressions of various famous people were the saving grace of Tommy G’s opening news segment. I often think back to his impression of Bill Clinton, in which he answered questions at a press conference via saxophone. That was an okay gag in itself, but the magic occurred when the sax kept ‘playing’ after he had removed the instrument from his mouth. Santo, Jason, Jane and the audience dissolved into laughter, while Rob stared into the bell of the sax with an amused look on his face, before declaring, “Well, I’m gonna hang on to this one.”

It was this tacit embracing of fuck-ups that made the show great. Of course, it wasn’t a new concept – that’s what makes live comedy electrifying – but it was the first time I’d experienced it, beyond my mum’s Peter Cook and Dudley Moore records, in an Australian accent, talking about stuff I understood.

Tony Martin

Aside from Rob, my favourite cast member was Tony Martin. I’d go so far as to say that Tony is a comic genius. He didn’t stuff up as much as Rob, because his bits were just too good; but he had a looseness and hyper self-awareness that made him very quick on his feet. Added to that was a simmering, impatient anger underpinning everything he did, cloaked in an affable friendliness that I could really relate to.

A great example of this, and one of my favourite Late Show segments of all time, is when Tony and Mick hit the streets (with Santo behind the camera) to visit shops with zany names. There are too many highlights to list, but Tony’s genius comes through in his interview with the good-natured Amanda at Stacks of Slax. “Why don’t you call the shop Racks of Slax?” he asks. “Or maybe Stacks of Slacks on Racks? Or maybe Racks of Dacks in Stacks, possibly?” Amanda just stands looking thoughtful, nodding. “Sounding a bit like a Dr Seuss story really, isn’t it?”

There were plenty of other amazing segments like this. How about the Olden Days, or its second season equivalent Bargearse, wherein old TV shows (Rush and Bluey, respectively) were cut up and overdubbed to create new narratives? The Olden Days was geared around the adventures of Governor Frontbottom, a namby-pamby boss of a goldfield, and had me in hysterics at nearly every turn. Bargearse was basically one long, hilarious fart joke.

I also loved the one-off bits in which the entire cast got in on the act, like the dinner party sketch. Once again, Rob steals the show with his over-acting, but it’s also a chance to see how the whole cast works together.

The magic of The Late Show felt real and accessible; it wasn’t something only Americans could conjure up with millions of dollars, unfamiliar cultural signposts and dancing dwarves (not taking anything away from Twin Peaks – I still have nightmares about the woods). It was contained in short, chaotic sketches put together by a group of mates in Melbourne, in which things often went wrong.

I laughed at The Late Show in the same way I laughed with my brother and sister, or my best friend; and it made me feel like culture was something I could be a part of, rather than merely observe. Rewatching it today still fills me with excitement, glee, and inspiration.

Max Olijnyk is a writer and editor who also takes photos and makes clothes. He used to live in Melbourne but he recently moved to Wellington, New Zealand. He writes for all sorts of publications about all sorts of things, but his favourite subjects are skateboarding and his son Fred. You can follow him at @maxolijnyk

The post A Very Loving Taxonomy Of ABC’s ‘The Late Show’ appeared first on Junkee.

17 Jun 09:09

Twenty-eight Chickens

by Michael Lee-Murphy

Sweary Irish Dads

Screenshot: “Dad Reacts to Man United v Fulham match (hidden camera)”/YouTube

To be a dad is often to struggle with, fail to comprehend, and ultimately be defeated by modernity. The mercifully dormant Dads on Vacation tumblr is a document of Dads struggling with the unfamiliar, trying to make peace. American Dads have cheesy jokes to buffer the hard edges of the world; Irish Dads tell these challenges to “fuck away off.”

More often than not, to resist the encroachments of the unfamiliar is to swear at it, so as to cut it down to size. The Irish writer Brian O’Nolan, who wrote under the pseudonym Flann O’Brien, was said to have left his job is a civil servant in “a final fanfare of fucks.” Swearing is the armor that the Irish Dad wears into battle. My own Irish Dad, upon meeting my American friend Alex, affectionately christened him “Alex the Bollix.” (This of course only rhymes when said with a Belfast accent, and roughly translates to “Alex the Shithead.”) Irish sons and daughters have discovered that the rest of the world finds this endlessly funny, and taken to YouTube accordingly.

Observe then, this brief selection of Irish Dads being victimized by, struggling with, swearing at, and ultimately succumbing to, the modern world. There is a common narrative arc: rising anger, climax, and denouement.

Here is a dad in camo shorts who has tattooed on his arm the name of the daughter that is currently melting his brain with a riddle. Dog and the daughter are both in on the joke. Listen to his rage bubble up to the surface as the thoughts dance around the inside of his head. Four times the dad asks, “How many didn’t whaa?”

After several repetitions of the riddle, the dad turns to the phone in desperation. There are no answers to be found there though. Here, then, the dad completely divests from the challenges of modernity and the swearing erupts:

“Ah you’re a fucking thick c***, I swear to Jaysus. That’s the most stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard in me life.”

Only in Ireland could a Dad affectionately call his daughter a c-word and have it send her into a fit of laughter. Second, he calls forth the twin deities of Irish swearing, fuck (or perhaps fook) and Jaysus, both being equally holy, and perhaps related to the similarly Catholic Quebecois sacres swears.

In a a final grasp for the answer, the dad repeats the riddle to himself. Perhaps an inserted swear will make the truth easier to uncover. “Thirty cows and twenty-eight (ate) fucking chickens? … Who didn’t?!”

The dog growls.

“That’s enough now, fuck off,” the dad tells his daughter as he attempts to return to his dad activities.

He leaves the door open a crack. It is a door to his daughter’s room and to the answer to this kink in the universe. The reveal. “Ten didn’t eat chickens.” Father and daughter join in laughing as the Irish Dad is defeated.

For our second Irish Dad, the culprit is not a riddle, but a GPS device that can not, will not, hear him. He just wants to go to Cloughjordan. “New destination,” he tells the GPS. The GPS has an English voice: “Sorry? Please repeat your destination.” “New destination,” the Dad says with more agitation. “Cancelled,” the English accented GPS taunts. Maybe a swear will help.

“The greatest fuck up of a yoke,” he christens the GPS. The giggles elsewhere in the car warn that there are Irish Dad swears approaching on the horizon.

“Hello? New destination. Cloughjordan.” (Cloughjordan is a difficult name for a non-Irish person, with the gh of clough forming in the back of the mouth.) “Sorry?” the insultingly English GPS replies. The GPS has denied him three times. It was foretold. The time has come to swear at the GPS. There is no choice. Here we go.

“I’ll give you fuckin’ sorry. NEW destination. Clough FUCKING jordan.”

The GPS is still stubbornly English.

“You’re a thick c***.”

His anger then turns to his companion. Lord Jaysus is summoned.

“You’re looking into them books. And BOLLIX [unintelligible swearing].”

Here the Irish Dadrage breaks the bonds of language, ascending into tongues unknowable to those not from Tipperary. The Dad rejects the instruction manual, rejects the possibility that his passenger’s voice may work better with the GPS. The Tipperary accent deepens. He is alone.

“Gracious heap of shite.”

It is finished.

Intermezzo. Our third Irish Dad has attempted to turn the camera outwards towards modernity, to document his encounters with Las Vegas with a GoPro curiously mounted on a selfie stick. The abyss, however, stares back. The Irish Dad has turned the GoPro inward, towards himself. Even from the beginning of this Dad’s contest with modernity, he was defeated by it. What we have then is not the same narrative arc or the same swearing, but rather a sort of mise en abyme, in which the conventions of the form of the Irish Dad are placed on a brief hiatus. We are invited to gaze into the eyes of an Irish Dad, who is not aware he is struggling with modernity, even as he is swept under its current.

First, we are in the hotel. There are the mountain, Arizona, the Trump Tower, the dad tells us. A little Dad joke about the color of Trump’s hair. There is the view looking west, he says. No, there is not. There is only the Dad.

We are on the Vegas Strip. We are in the Bellagio. The MGM Grand. Some excitement about the filming location of Ocean’s 11. Several iterations of a Dad joke about shrimp boats and large boats. Several times the Dad imitates an American accent, a favorite pastime of Irish Dads. But we are really in none of these places. We are just looking at the Dad, joining him in his wonder.

Here we have an Irish Dad being victimized not by a riddle or a piece of technology, but by a prank. The Dad is reading his paper, angrily listening to his U2 song, and is not happy about how long the driving test has taken. We know that immediately we are in for something special. This video is the paragon of the swearing Irish Dad.

“How did it go? Jaysus I’m a fucking good while waiting.”

As the son begins his waffling about the difficulties of the three-point turn and the hill start, the Irish Dad slices through to the truth.

“Did ye fail the fucker?”

As in the two previous videos, there is a turning point, a crossroads where the Dad realizes his inability to exist in the world. After the son’s reply in the affirmative, the swearing takes off, lifted to flight by a gust of rage.

The swearing that follows is of ornate and extravagant quality—it’s acrobatic and dazzling, worthy of high-wire trapeze artists, or daredevil stunt pilots. The Dad’s swearing travels in the realms of theology, taxonomy, economics:

“Ah for FUCK’s sake. Jaysus Christ of Almighty, for fuck’s sake. What kind of a c*** was he, anyway?”

The fact that the driving instructor was a c*** is obvious for the Dad, by virtue of having failed his son, but what this Dad would like to know is what kind of a c***, what species of c***, what genus. These are important pieces of information to attain for the Dad, if he is to exist in this new reality. The son flashes a knowing look, as he knows what’s coming.

“A fucking bitch of a woman, why didn’t you sweeten her up some way?”

Sweetness is in a different universe for this Dad. Blame must be assigned for this disaster.

“Them’s the two tings I told you last night, lad. The fucking three-point turn and the hill start, but you were lookin’ into the fuckin’ computer. Jaysus Christ.”

In the final denouement, — as the son reveals the prank, and the Dad rage subsides — Jaysus reverts back to Jesus. But alas, there is more modernity to confront. The son twists the knife, telling the Dad he has been recorded.

“Turn off that FUCK of a thing.”

Irish sons and Irish daughters, please don’t. Keep recording.

Michael Lee-Murphy is an Irish-born, New England raised reporter and writer. He blogs at A Furious Return to Basics.

Twenty-eight Chickens was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Read the responses to this story on Medium.

10 Jun 09:53

A Spice Gull Is a Seagull Who Fell Into a Vat of Chicken Tikka Masala 

by Jia Tolentino
A Spice Gull Is a Seagull Who Fell Into a Vat of Chicken Tikka Masala 

Weak End at Bernie’s” is a pretty good headline, but it’s got nothing on “Spice Gull,” the phrase used by the Guardian to describe a seagull that fell into a vat of faux-Indian food.

The bird fell into the container while trying to scavenge meat from a food factory bin on Monday. It was rescued by workers at the site in Wales, and picked up by a volunteer for Vale wildlife hospital, near Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire.

Staff at the hospital used washing-up liquid to remove the bright orange from the seagull’s feathers. They returned him to its original white colour but have not been able to wash away the smell of curry.

Lucy Kells, veterinary nurse at the hospital, said: “He really surprised everyone here – we had never seen anything like it before. He had fallen into a waste vat of curry that was outside, it was chicken tikka masala. The thing that shocked us the most was the smell. He smelled amazing, he really smelled good.

A nice-smelling gull that simply loves garbage: my new professional biography, found.

Image via YouTube

06 Jun 15:24

Why Every Aussie Should Learn To Speak An Indigenous Australian Language

by Professor Jakelin Troy

I’m not racist, but I don’t like speaking English. I would rather speak my own language – Ngarigu of the Snowy Mountains in south-eastern Australia.

It’s not that I particularly dislike English as a language, it’s just that saying who I am – “Ngaya Ngyamitjimitung” in my own language — feels much more authentic than saying “I am Aboriginal” in English. To me, “Aboriginal” sounds like a label someone else has given me and, in fact, that is just what it is.

It does seem ridiculous that in Australia very few people speak an Australian language. Who of you reading this piece speaks or knows anything about one or more of the at least 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages? This is because English has become the unofficial official language of this country, by default. When Governor Arthur Phillip led the First Fleet to invade our Aboriginal Countries in 1788 he not only colonised our land — he also began the colonisation of our languages. English eroded and devalued the languages of this Country, slowly replacing the Australian languages as the principle means of communication.

However, English has not colonised the minds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Our languages remain core to our identities and are fundamental to our connection to Country. ‘Land, language and people’ is a mantra of connection that is understood by all Aboriginal and Torre Strait Islander people. It is one that should be understood by all Australians.

I’m not racist, but it seems a crying shame that we don’t ensure that every Australian child in every Australian school learns an Australian language. Last year less than a dozen Year 12 students across the country studied an Australian language. Could you imagine children in England not learning English?

It’s easy to find racist reasons to justify why this is not currently happening. Although not wanting to be racist, you might say there is no purpose in learning an Australian language. Where would you use it? How would it ‘help’ you? These are not languages of commerce or industry — it will not profit you to learn one. But you might be surprised that, in knowing an Australian language, you will know Australia in a way you never will if you don’t speak its languages. How will you know the names of the country? How would you know that what was once ‘Ayers Rock’, named after a colonial administrator, is actually Uluru, as it is now so commonly known since its Pitjantjatjara name was officially restored in 1993?

This is just the beginning. In knowing an Australian language you will also know how to talk to its first people. You will know the human relationships, the connections to Country, the foods, the plants, the animals, the philosophies, the sciences, the religions and the truths about Australia.

On the same day as I discuss racism towards our Australian languages in the ‘I’m Not A Racist, But…’ forum in Sydney, I will also be in Alice Springs facilitating an historic gathering of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from across Australia with other supporters and colleagues who are working towards creating a national coalition to support our languages into the future. We hope to create a unified front from which we can work with governments, education systems and others to ensure that the Australian languages have a solid future.

I’m not racist, but it does seem that most Australians are missing out on something essential — a true part of their being as Australians — because they can’t speak an Australian language.

Professor Jakelin Troy is the Director of the University of Sydney’s Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Research Network. She will be taking part in the NSW Reconciliation Council and Sydney Ideas I’m Not A Racist, But… panel discussion with Junkee’s Alex McKinnon, artist Abdul Abdullah and spoken word music artist Luka Lesson as part of National Reconciliation Week 2016 on Thursday, June 2 at Redfern’s Giant Dwarf Theatre. Tickets and details here.

The post Why Every Aussie Should Learn To Speak An Indigenous Australian Language appeared first on Junkee.

22 May 19:09

Failed Candidate Ted Cruz Elbows Wife in Face

by Ashley Feinberg on Gawker, shared by Emma Carmichael to Jezebel
Failed Candidate Ted Cruz Elbows Wife in Face

Perpetual former candidate for president Ted Cruz ran a very particular kind of campaign. A campaign that some might have called “nauseating” or “hard to watch.” But this evening, no one had a harder time watching than Heidi Cruz—because her husband’s elbow was jammed directly into her face.

What baffles me most about this is the fact that Ted knew Heidi was there. He had literally just finished embracing her. He even narrowly misses punching her before proceeding to go elbows in.

All of which is to say, this cringe-inducing moment of oblivion is the perfect coda to Ted Cruz’s campaign—deeply uncomfortable, borderline sociopathic, and embarrassing for everyone involved.

On the bright side: Heidi, you’re free.

20 May 13:18

Modern Day Development Philosophies

by Chris Coyier

Hopefully This Actually Reduces Support Emails Driven Development

Ughck I'm Pretty Sure You're Going To Do Whatever You Want Anyway Driven Development

It's a Miracle Anything Ships At All Driven Development

Don't Overthink It Driven Development

console.log('Does this code even get run?'); Driven Development

Following the Reese's Pieces Driven Development

I Think I've Heard That Word Before Driven Development

Pragmatic Copy and Pasting

It's Only Wrong If You're a Dick About It Driven Development

Whatever, Cripes Stewart Driven Development

Functional Guessing

I Hope Nobody Notices These Commits Are Mostly Whitespace Changes Driven Development

Gut Instinct Driven Development

Struggle Through It Once Then Write a Thinkpiece Driven Development

Toss Another Dependency On The Pile Driven Development

It All Comes Down To HTML Driven Development

Modern Day Development Philosophies is a post from CSS-Tricks

17 May 09:53

Are You Afraid Of The Dark Patterns?

by Owen Phillips


Over the weekend, the New York Times raised concerns over “dark patterns”: web interfaces carefully crafted to manipulate users. For example, there’s the “roach motel,” named after the brand of insect trap that provides a seamless sign-up, but a difficult cancellation process. More common, though, are the websites that either hide the option to unsubscribe from their newsletters or just obfuscate the option to opt-out.

Harry Brignull, a user-experience consultant, coined the term in 2010 and began logging various types on Ryainair, Audible, and Skype have all been featured. Brignull said his goal was to draw attention to the issue and shame the websites who use them.

Let the Walk of Atonement begin:


At Sephora, unsubscribing is as simple as removing a check. But as soon as a user agrees to the terms and conditions the box rechecks itself. Choice is an illusion.

sephoraGIF is a classic roach motel—you can sign up online, but you can’t cancel online.


(Or you could do what one what one commenter on Hacker News suggests…)



Allegedly, there is an option to unsubscribe somewhere in this email from JetBlue.  


Amazon changes the color of the font of the unsubscribe option.




I spy with my little eye an “unsubscribe” from Hillary for America.


Double negatives aren’t not used on


100 percent of Twitter users bitched about the new algorithmic timeline. Only 2 percent opted out.

Twitter Twitter2


The Royal Mail, the UK’s largest postal service, first tells users to check a box if they do not wish to receive communications, followed by instructions to check a box if they would like to receive emails from third parties.



The path of least resistance leads to an inbox full of emails from Ticketmaster.

  “At least they give us the option.” How progressive of Shutterstock!

When you go to buy a ticket to that musical show everyone is on about, Vivid Seats gives you a whole bunch of options for groups of two, three, and four. But the prices they show are for ONE Hamilton ticket—you don’t learn that until you’re on the payment page.



—Let’s end this tour with one of those roach motels the New York Times is talking about:


11 Mar 16:25

Loose Flyers

by Bryan Washington


Everywhere in New Orleans is hellish in June, but the astonishing thing is what the heat does to the people. Some it makes cordial, like the Korean lady in the shop on Freret, who insisted that I take two, three, four Ozarkas from her cooler. The more I insisted that, really, I was fine, the more she insisted that I was not. I was very thirsty, she said. I would take the water and I would leave and I would enjoy my day.

The papers pen annual columns about the weather’s relationship to the murder rate, which seems to spike whenever the sun lingers, or the Saints are losing, or both. Everyone’s on the edge of something. On the streetcar, you’ll see a gaggle of black kids in too-big shirts beside the middle-aged white woman with FUCK tattooed on her neck, and you can’t guess what either of them is thinking, only that it’s probably Not Good. But it is simply too hot to function, let alone kill someone, so the boys nod at the woman from under their snapbacks and the woman smiles in turn, showing all of her teeth.

There are people who move to New Orleans for the labor, and there are people who move to New Orleans for the movies, and there are people who move here for its jazz and its blackness. I do not think I am alone in that I moved down for Moments. Moments! I’d read about them in books, from Tom Piazza to Tennessee Williams, and I’d seen them on HBO, ferried along by Wendell Pierce, and I knew that mine was precisely the mindset that the locals actively loathe: a young person from Elsewhere looking to drive up rent. But I’d only read so many books, and I’d been broke in Houston, and I never thought to wonder how I’d react when those Moments finally came.

On Zora Neale Hurston’s first trip to the city, she stayed with the great hoodoo doctor Luke Turner, the supposed grand-nephew of a great hoodoo queen. To reach a final state of enlightenment, or knowingness, or whatever, in order to collect the requisite notes for a piece she was writing, Hurston spent seventy hours on a sofa without water. Talking about it later, she said, “for sixty nine hours I lay there. I had five psychic experiences and awoke at last with no feeling of hunger, only one of exaltation.” It is the kind of anecdote you find in on overpriced visitor’s pamphlet, but I got it from a well-meaning teacher in junior high. It came with a photo of Hurston donning tilted hat and pistol. She’s grinning in the picture, as if she’s found The Point and deemed it ludicrous, and she became my projection of everyone in that city: black people coasting down the streets, fingering bourbon and muttering jazz; men and women and musicians donning capes, mysterious and cunning.

I took my first trip down when I was fourteen—visiting family friends around the way—but after spending most of the day in a hotel, having realized there’d be neither hoodoo nor enlightenment, I slipped out of my room, a little past midnight, and simply didn’t go back. I made a beeline to Bourbon. There is a long list of maladies that can befall a kid in the Quarter, but for better or worse I experienced none of them: I watched a squad of strippers smoking on break outside of Penthouse; I saw a bridesmaid hitch her skirt to take a shit in an alley; and a short, hairy guy in an Alabama sweatshirt walked right up to me, right on the edge of the curb, to lay a sloppy kiss on my left cheek. After that introduction, he gave me a hug. Was I okay? Okay. He apologized, disappearing into the mass. It was probably my first sense of being alone in a crowd—except I wasn’t really alone, because there was a whiff of something in the air and we were united even if we all weren’t blasted or giddy on E.

Walking back to the hotel, hours and hours later, I ended up stepping around Louis Armstrong Park. A quartet of drunks sat on a stage wiping down their instruments. I pulled a chair beside a trio of Asian guys with cameras. The crooner behind the microphone was deeply drunk but asked for requests anyways. But nothing fancy, he said, just the usual shit. After some deliberation, one of the cameramen asked, a little fearfully, for “It’s a Wonderful World.” The crooner groaned, but that’s what they played.

When I arrived a decade later, it was a little less enticing. The city felt grimier. Garbage was everywhere. The roads had been paved with TNT. Rent felt explosive and groceries were astronomical. Louisiana had reached a tipping point. Bobby Jindal’s political antics had stumbled across the national stage, and David Vitter, a long-time senator, was running as the Republican in his stead. But Vitter was, among other things, at the tail end of a prostitution scandal. Although the statute of limitations had elapsed, his constituents hadn’t forgotten, which made it a good a time to be a Democrat. The party had a guy named John Bel Edwards—standing on the “Hope!” platform—who, if elected, would be the only blue governor in the Deep South. His people were out in droves: You couldn’t drive four blocks without running over election signs, especially in Gentilly, a largely black suburb near the levees.

The bodies I saw on Elysian and St. Bernard, all of them campaigning for Edwards, were nearly always black—they were the ones on the ground. They championed this white man as a savior for the state and, by association, its cardinal city. In the general American consciousness, blackness can mean a number of things: culture and authenticity and hip-hop and the rest. It’s less often, and hardly enough, that you see the political girth of it—the anvil-weighted influence of the demographic in a city. It’s delicious to see black people achieve. The transaction in between, the working for the thing to happen, isn’t something we hear enough about—the idea of New Orleans as a “working black city” isn’t as sexy as the idea that it is a violent one.

So, for the first time in a long time, I felt implicated by the actions of people who looked like me. The notion of “representing the race,” whether you’ve fucked up or done something great, isn’t a mindset I’m partial toward, but in New Orleans, all of a sudden, those gestures were amplified. The feeling got tighter whenever I glanced at the crime reports, until I stopped reading them—only to come back to them hours later. The Uptown robberies were a cardinal example: Late at night on August 20th, three gunmen entered the Patois restaurant on Laurel Street and told everyone to get on the fucking floor. They went through patrons’ pockets, took wallets and cash and phones, then left the joint with an empty bottle of Vodka. The restaurant’s co-owner, Leon Touzet, told The Times-Picayune that they “were definitely amateurs.” A few weeks after that, on September 24th, two gunmen robbed the Atchafalaya restaurant on Louisiana Avenue. Not even a week later, the Monkey Hill Bar on Magazine was robbed on a Monday night. The owner, Johnny Vodanovich, said he “knew it was a matter of time.” The police presence in the area rose from “present” to highly visible, and that meant the constant churning of a sort of loose street calculus. People took care to clear the streets in the evenings; when people saw me on the sidewalk, more than a few of them crossed the road. It was another few months before three suspects were named. A fourth one turned himself in shortly afterwards. I was (still) unpacking boxes at my place when I heard, scanning the news for updates on my phone. I’d been looking for that specific thing, the thing I knew I didn’t need to confirm, but when I got to the pictures, I couldn’t help but sigh, because each of them was, without exception, very young and very black.

My apartment sits in the outskirts—the suburbs, really—surrounded by the highway. It isn’t very large, but there’s a courtyard in the back. There’s room for the kids in the complex to kick the fùtbol onto the main road, and when everyone hits their porches in the evenings, they’ve got their Abitas and their Buds and Modelos in tow. There’s a young-ish Puerto Rican couple in the unit beside mine, and an old black man living below me who bums cigarettes. The Arab lady across the banister is always in tottering in heels. Every day of the week she has an entirely different hairstyle. By my entirely unscientific conclusions, it is probably the most diverse pocket in the New Orleans metropolitan area, which isn’t especially diverse: It’s a black city, home of the oldest black neighborhood in this country, the first major neighborhood maintained by free people of color—slaves who’d toiled and worked and prospered and died and probably hoped they’d get to pass a little something on.

This is all to say that the city I visited years ago isn’t at all the one I’m in now: The population has returned to seventy-nine percent of what it was before Katrina, but the black population has been reduced by nearly a hundred thousand. Just over seventy percent of the people displaced by the storm were black, and at least a third of that group was economically disadvantaged. The Asian population has jumped all of 0.7 percent over the course of fourteen years and the Latino population, comparatively low for the South, has risen by nearly 2.2 percent; the city supports one of the largest Honduran communities outside of Honduras, and it’s generally understood that the influx of Latino workers made rebuilding the city a smoother affair.

But the white people. Oh, man. The white people are renovating shotguns and they are opening gourmet grilled cheese cafes. White people are here and white people are there and white people going where they’ve never gone before, building beautiful things in places they’d have sped past only a year ago. No one I’ve spoken to seems to know how they feel about this. Or they do have an opinion, one they’re ready to defend, but there’s always a lingering but. We’re being priced out, but the Bywater’s safer. Black businesses are closing, but we don’t mind the Whole Foods on Broad Street. You may be geographically in New Orleans, but not in New Orleans at all. The city is very much itself all over, except where it isn’t. It is, ironically, a chiasmus everyone seems to agree on: something needs to change, but too many things are changing.

Near the end of October, a month before the election, if you were driving through Gentilly or Broadview or Mid-City you saw even more Edwards supporters. Some of them had the signs, and some of them fiddled with leaflets, but the bulk of them simply stood in the crowd, in the midst of the thing even if their hands were free. I flirted with the idea of joining them. Occasionally I’d honk a horn in solidarity, or support, or something, and the people turned sharply, and then they saw me, and I think they understood. One let out a yell. Once, a woman ambushed me just outside of the Rouse’s. She told me this election would be different. She said Edwards had the people in mind. I did not contradict her.

Maybe a month later, I was sitting on the patio of a bar in the middle of town, well past two or even three in the morning. It was packed, with this breeze floating just above everyone’s voices, and the streetcar crackling in the background. Someone in the corner collapsed into laughter, and all of a sudden we were having it, a good time. It was one of the evenings I told myself I’ve moved to New Orleans for. It was happening, right then, right there in front of my eyes.

Someone launched into another joke when two black girls, both of them impeccably dressed, made their way onto the patio from the corner. They sidled up to the table, asking for cigarettes, and we quickly distributed them because we had no reason not to. The girls were very funny, and very pretty, and they folded easily into our laughter, until they’d finally made it their own in the funny way that black women can, which also made sense, because it was their city we were in, and all of a sudden they were telling us stories about it.

A man flew out of the bar, moving with an urgency I’ve rarely seen amongst civilians. He told the girls to get the fuck out. He’d had problems with stragglers, they’d been plugging his patrons for money, and he’d seen the two girls come off of the road. He wasn’t having it tonight. Someone had to put a stop to it.

The girl who could’ve been a model took a drag on her cigarette. She asked the man if he knew who her father was. He did not. Nor did we. But when she told us, everyone sort of exhaled—it was a Name That Was Known, a jazz musician. The man didn’t look entirely convinced, but he backed off anyways. He said he was just checking. They’d had problems before. Someone had to fix it. One of the girls said she understood, she didn’t want any trouble, and the man retreated into the doorway.

The mood had been dampened—irremediably, I thought—but eventually it returned. There was laughter again, and jokes. The streetcar tinkling. Many beers later, the daughter of the musician pulled me aside. We were the only black people at the bar, and she joked that she had to make the effort. She asked if I liked it in her city. I told her I hadn’t been around long enough to know. She knocked on the bench between us, cementing our words in the wood. “Me,” she said. “I can’t wait to get the fuck out of here. People come down here from fucking wherever and they think there’s a million things to do.”

“But us,” she continued. “Ain’t nothing left for us. We suffocating. So I got to go.”

After another cigarette, she and her friend waved goodbye. They told us they were going for a walk. This was the only time of day they didn’t have to worry about tourists crowding the park, and they thought it would be romantic. It was well past three in the evening. I wanted to say something about staying safe, but it felt inappropriate, so I didn’t.

In November, hours before the final tally on election night, John Bel Edwards had already wrapped up the vote. The tavern I watched the election in stayed at a medium hum, with about half of the patrons eying the screen above the bar, and the other half crowded at the pool table. I was sitting with a friend, a woman who’d spent most of the month campaigning. One guy sitting beside us, a white dude in a hunting jacket, called it a damn shame. The black guy beside him agreed. The white girl that I came with spoke up, and while I braced for something heated, she only called it a beautiful thing. One of the men grunted. He wasn’t looking for an argument, either. The other rose his mug in a perverse sort of toast.

I thought Edwards’ victory would also be a victory for the black volunteers—the ones doing work on the ground, forcing the rest of us to give a fuck. I imagined them celebrating in the streets, or at least reaping the spoils of their sweat. But the roads were empty that night, and then again the following day. Most of the signs I’d seen posted for weeks evaporated altogether. Every once in a while, I’d find a flyer on Elysian, blown loose and collected on the slope of a traffic island, but it wasn’t any different from what was already there. It’d found its place with the rest of the trash, overshadowed by the renovations beside it. You had no way of knowing when the city would clean it up.

Photo by Shanon Mollreus

19 Feb 09:51

Same Language, Different Tongue: Trini English and Proper English

by Denece Mohammed

The dorms were still empty save for us kids from all over the world; we met in the halls, at night on the “strip”, our accents mingling and flowing, already forming little groups that we would all fall back on in the years to come. I found my home that week in the Caribbean massive, populated mostly by my fellow Trinis.

Read more Same Language, Different Tongue: Trini English and Proper English at The Toast.

15 Feb 16:54

Coombe Estate · The Garden of Dame Nellie Melba

by The Design Files

Plant / Life

Coombe Estate · The Garden of Dame Nellie Melba

by Georgina Reid

Today we visit the garden of one of Australia’s most celebrated icons, Dame Nellie Melba! In 1909, after twenty years touring the world with her marvellous voice, our first lady of opera returned home to Australia. Upon her arrival she purchased a property in Coldstream, Victoria, and built her home and a garden shortly after.

A century has passed since then, and through the collaborative efforts of Dame Nellie Melba’s family, a team of expert gardeners and the estate’s property manager Daniel Sinclair Johnson, the garden remains intact and has been largely preserved in its original state. Coombe Estate now hosts daily garden tours, with its vineyard and restaurant located next door – the perfect summer day trip!

Story by our gardens columnist, Georgina Reid of The Planthunter.

The garden at Coombe Estate is nestled amongst the lush farmland and vineyards of the Yarra Valley. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

The garden at Coombe Estate, looking out to the the Yarra Valley. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

A voluptuous wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) winds its way around the verandah of Coombe Cottage. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

The driveway entrance to Melba Estate. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

A huge old oak tree at Melba Estate. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

The native garden, built by Dame Nellie Melba’s only granddaughter Pamela, known as Lady Vestey, who lived at Coombe Estate in recent years before passing away in 2011. Lady Vestey was the guardian of Coombe Estate, and worked closely with the estate’s property manager Daniel Sinclair Johnson to create the Native Garden. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

The frog pond, framed by a pair of red flowering camellias (Camellia japonica cvs). Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

A voluptuous wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) winds its way around the verandah of Coombe Cottage. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

The huge hedge provides a strong backdrop to the garden. A mix of perennial plants and shrubs such as lavender, peony, irises, shasta daisies, and more form a wide border planting. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Bluebells! (Hyacinthoides non-scripta). Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

A peony plant (Paeonia spp.). Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

The cypress hedge was apparently planted by ​Dame Nellie Melba herself, in around 1909. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

The garden at Coombe is broken up into a series of rooms, each with a different feel. This gateway leads to the swimming pool, surrounded by ornamental fruit trees, in full blossom at the time of this shoot! Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Prunus trees flower in front of the infamous hedge. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

The garden at Coombe is around 100 years old. ​Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

An avenue of pine trees frames one of the roads within the estate. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

In 1909, after nearly 20 years of international success, Australia’s first lady of opera, Dame Nellie Melba returned to Australia and bought a property in Coldstream, Victoria. She built a house, calling it Coombe Cottage, and the garden soon followed. A grand cypress hedge was planted, enclosing the property, and creating a sense of intrigue and mystery that has lasted the past 100 years. In 2014, the gardens hidden behind the hedge were opened to the public for the first time.

Coombe is still owned by Dame Nellie Melba’s descendants, the Vestey family. Lady Pamela Vestey, Melba’s granddaughter, lived on the estate from the 1970s until her death in 2011. The property is now owned by Lady Vestey’s two sons, Lords Sam and Mark Vestey, and has been managed by a passionate estate manager, Daniel Sinclair Johnson, for the last 12 years. Daniel spends his days running tours of the gardens, managing the six gardeners, and overlooking The Melba Collection of artworks, gifts, jewellery and personal effects.

‘The estate houses some of the most beautiful internationally-inspired gardens in Victoria’, says Daniel. The seven acres of gardens consist of an Italianate garden and pool, a French style rose garden, an English herbaceous border, a native garden, and a kitchen garden. The different areas of the garden are surrounded by the famous 10 metre high hedge, running 700 meters around the garden’s perimeter. The hedge is part of the original design, and according to Daniel was recorded in paintings by Hans Heysen in 1914.

Daniel’s favourite part of the garden is slightly newer than the iconic hedge. ‘I love the native garden and pond,’ he says. ‘This was created on what used to be a tennis court, played on by a former Wimbledon winner! Lady Vestey and I planted the natives and built the frog pond ten years ago, and it has now matured and softened to become a highlight of the formal gardens.’

Perhaps due to the mystery suggested by the tall hedges, or to the celebrity of garden’s former owner, there are plenty of stories about Coombe. One is the story about the 20,000 daffodils sent from the Blue Mountains of NSW to Coombe as payment for a performance by Melba. Another is story about Charlie Chaplin in the swimming pool, which is alleged to be the first swimming pool ever built in Victoria!

One story we do know to be fact, though, is the one about Lady Pamela Vestey being christened in the bird-bath in the garden! ‘This is typical of the true nature of Melba,’ Daniel says. ‘Her humour resounds throughout the property. The garden is a place of fun and relaxation, a happy place.’

Coombe Yarra Valley garden tours operate from Monday to Saturday. Visit their website for more info and bookings.

A voluptuous wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) winds its way around the verandah of Coombe Cottage. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

01 Feb 14:49

I Make My Kids Star Wars Lunches To Take To School

by Beau Coffron

Every Monday I make my kids fun lunches for school. I started doing this because wanted to let them know that their dad is thinking about them and loves them. These lunches all have different themes based on what they interested in at the time.

My family loves Star Wars so I have made them a number of Star Wars themed lunches. I make them out of ordinary food that many people already have in their kitchens. They take about 30 minutes to create. My kids have loved these lunches and are counting down the days to when they can see The Force Awakens.

More info:

Stormtrooper tortilla for building your own darkside burrito

Chewbacca sandwich and banana TIE fighter lunch


Star Wars R2D2 sandwich and TIE fighter Christmas lunch

Star Wars – My Little Pony lunch mashup


Princess Leia hamburger and cheese lunch

Ewok sandwich and Biker Scout hard boiled egg lunch

BB-8 droid sandwich and first order Stormtrooper egg

Yoda Kiwi, C3P0 mango, R2D2 egg, cheese deathstar, and apple lightsabers

11 Sep 16:26

This Amazing Bridge Turns Into An Underwater Tunnel Connecting Denmark And Sweden

by Dainius

This unique roadway connects the Danish capital of Copenhagen to the Swedish city of Malmö. The Øresund, designed by the Danish architect George K.S. Rotne, was opened on July 1, 2000. The bridge stretches about 8km before transitioning through an artificial island into a 4km tunnel under the Flint Channel.

The site is interesting both biologically and architecturally: the Lund’s Botanical Association has identified more than 500 different species of plants on the island, which was constructed from material dredged from the seabed. Most of the concrete tunnel was cast on land and towed out to the location.

More info: (h/t: demilkedtwistedsifter)