February 21, 2016

Sunday Diversions: February, Part Two

We live in a new house now, in a new neighborhood, in a new city. There are still boxes everywhere — we only just moved in last night — but the excitement has filled the old house, from brick wall to brick wall. We are starting a new chapter of life together, taking all the hopes and fears that comes with that, and turning into in a new adventure. I can’t wait to see how the adventure unfolds.

Here’s what I’ve loved reading these past two weeks:

Mattel recently announced new body types for Barbie, including curvy,” which made Justine Harman examine her relationship with the word and how we see our bodies:

This past year I reached a zen plateau in my relationship with my size, thanks largely in part to a comment a buddy made at a bar. When I leaned over our mulled wine and quietly revealed that I was fifteen pounds heavier than I’d been before we met, she replied, Isn’t that just having a body, though? Your weight changes.”

This moment unlocked something in my brain that reading about self-love over and over again in women’s personal health articles never had: Your body is an art piece about flux. It is never not reacting to things, recalibrating with the seasons, and adjusting as you get older. So why should this one metric—how many pounds I weighed—be the only factor I expected to remain a static part of my identity? My moods were allowed to change, and so were my opinions, but my ass somehow needed to remain a perfect, fixed point in space and time.

The football season ended two weeks ago, but it’s still worth reading this profile on football commissioner Roger Goodell and the seemingly-unstoppable machine that is the NFL:

One key to being a good politician is an ability to identify and prioritize constituencies. Goodell keeps a call sheet at his desk with the names of all the team owners. Their ranks are mostly male and mostly white, with a few exceptions, including Martha Firestone Ford, the 90-year-old widow of the Detroit Lions’ longtime owner, William Clay Ford, and Shahid Khan, the Pakistani-born businessman who owns the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Goodell checks in with the Members at least once a month. He is solicitous and attentive and learns what issues are important to them — precisely what a good legislative leader would do with his caucus. By contrast, Goodell’s predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, had a more distant and even contemptuous relationship with the Membership. He would deal with seven or eight prominent owners and mostly leave the rest to his staff. One player agent described Tagliabue, a cerebral lawyer, as a parental and elusive figure whom the Membership grew tired of, and vice versa. Tagliabue was the longtime outside counsel to the league, while Goodell spent his entire career in the league office. With Goodell, the Membership hired someone more like a younger brother.

The ability of a powerful, emotional narrative can make us believe the unbelievable; Maria Konnikova looks at how stories can be the perfect tool for deception:

Stories bring us together. We can talk about them and bond over them. They are shared knowledge, shared legend, and shared history; often, they shape our shared future. Stories are so natural that we don’t notice how much they permeate our lives. And stories are on our side: they are meant to delight us, not deceive us—an ever-present form of entertainment.

That’s precisely why they can be such a powerful tool of deception. When we’re immersed in a story, we let down our guard. We focus in a way we wouldn’t if someone were just trying to catch us with a random phrase or picture or interaction.

All my life, depictions of desi men in media were sexless, passionless, and mostly used for a laugh. Zayn Malik is one of the first I’ve noticed to fight that trope:

Can brown boys be sexy? Throughout my childhood in the late 90s and early 00s, it was easy to turn to music, or television, or cinema, or any arena of popular culture and believe that the answer was a resounding no.” The few times desi (South Asian) men were lucky enough to be granted mere representation, we were imagined in the flattest of terms. We were convenience store owners, taxi drivers, IT dorks, or aspiring terrorists. These roles helped reinforce the prevailing image of South Asian men as sexless: our dicks are small, our sexuality, by consequence, limp.

Enter, into this fray, Zayn Malik. He’s become a bona fide desi sex symbol, the rare South Asian object of lust. He possesses a power seldom afforded to brown men. Zayn can send anyone’s libido—female, male, young, old—into overdrive.

The way we talk about our bodies shapes the way people feel about their interactions with us:

I need you to consider your audience. When you say you hate your body for being so fat, or that you are afraid of becoming fat, or when you say that you shouldn’t have eaten that lunch or dessert, or when you announce your new year’s resolution to lose 5, 10, 25 pounds, you are saying that you don’t want your body to end up like mine. Your feelings are real and true and valid. And you still should not say them to the fattest person you know.

I need you to know that when you talk disparagingly about your own body, and then you say but not you, you’re beautiful!”, your compliments are impossible to believe. That if you disapprove of yourself, vivisect your own body, and then compliment me, I will remember how you talk about both of us. If you think of your own fat body as repulsive, I will believe that you are also repulsed by mine. I know that you intend to talk about yourself. I need you to know that you are also talking about me.

Mary Zoborskis looks at the relationship between children and sexuality, and reviews three books that all take a new, perhaps somewhat-unsettling approach to that relationship:

Children’s relationship to sexuality is most prominent when it is their own sexuality being disciplined; adult sexuality is the elephant in and out of the bedroom, present but off-limits to children’s scrutiny. The direction of power is such that children cannot discipline adults, but adults can discipline children. This is why children walking in on parents engaged in a sexual act is considered traumatic, while adults walking in on children is either ignored, as parodied around the 2:45 mark of this recent Saturday Night Live short, or an invitation to enforce rules over who can and cannot be in the child’s bedroom, when the door must be open, and what activities are and are not allowed under a parent’s roof.

The words I love you” are perhaps the phrase I use most in my life — I remind Lise of it multiple times a day, for sure — but I’ve never questioned why those three words in particular are so pervasive:

I love you” is hard to say because, as Barthes writes, it is always in some sense a demand, and so the only addressee guaranteed not to be embarrassed or discomforted by it is a parent, or God. There is only one correct reply to I love you”: not even Me too” is good enough. In the 1991 film Hear My Song, the hero, Micky O’Neill, loses his girlfriend, Nancy, when he answers her I love you” with Vice versa” — which will clearly not do at all. Barthes writes in his book A Lover’s Discourse that I love you” is an anti-language, a phrase without nuance”, stripped of the usual armoury of meaning”. Words are meant to have some give in them, to be open to interpretation and dialogue by the hearer or reader. But I love you” permits only one meaning and one answer. One says it, he writes, only to hear it said right back in the exact same form, with no syntactical subterfuge, no variation”.

Ever since my days studying anthropology, I’ve been fascinated by liminal stages; I never thought to think about the deep night, the time where the world is asleep but when we often force ourselves to stay awake, as a form of that liminality:

Ordinary sleep bookends waking: Eight hours of slumber lops off the end of one day and births another. But late-night, all-night, is liminal; it is interstitial; it is duty-free. It is time travel. It’s a space where you don’t belong. Like a journey through the underworld, it is removed from reality, aside from it, a footnote; anything can happen there, and whatever happens there can be remembered or forgotten at will. And on the other end, you are spat back into the land of the living. Whether or not you drank from the River Lethe—well, that was your choice, wasn’t it?

I subscribed to the print edition of The New Yorker for over a decade. I finally stopped when I realized my pile of unread magazines had doubled my pile of completed ones. Summer Brennan decided to spend her vacation catching up on a whole year of The New Yorker:

The New Yorker is not a relaxing magazine, and why would it be? After all, it isn’t The Northern Californian, nor The Italian. Not La Provençal. Still, due to the sheer number of issues that come out each year and how long it takes to read one, a certain degree of leisure time for the subscriber is assumed. That or a very long commute. And while I started out my intensive reading experiment feeling a little guilty about the bougie lushness of my vacation surroundings, I realized in the end that it could not have been more appropriate. Because The New Yorker is nothing if not a view of the world from a comfortable vantage point. The intensity of the features is balanced by reviews of Manhattan restaurants and jokes about how busy we all are. Print magazines are tribal, and we swear our allegiance by buying them and opening them up. The New Yorker assumes that I am politically liberal and have read Chekhov’s The Seagull, and The New Yorker is right.

Desmond Cole frames Black History Month in terms of the conversation around black liberation, and reminds us that we still have a long way to go:

We no longer have segregated schools in Ontario, but black students now face a different form of educational exclusion because of how often they are suspended, expelled, or drop out. Although the drop out rate for black students is declining, about a quarter of all black students still don’t graduate. At last count, black students represented about 12 per cent of the TDSBs population, and 31 per cent of its suspensions. This history of African liberation is alive, and the enduring need for it must never become fossilized to comfort those who don’t want to hear it.

Anything that Rembert Browne writes is bound to be a must-read, but this piece about how Hillary Clinton won Harlem” is entertaining and eye-opening and a surefire can’t-miss:

Watching a white woman who could be the president of the United States say things like, For many white Americans, it’s tempting to believe that bigotry is largely behind us. That would leave us with a lot less work, wouldn’t it?” and Race still plays a significant role in determining who gets ahead in America and who gets left behind. Now, anyone — anyone asking for your vote has a responsibility to grapple with this reality” is uncharted waters.

It’s a speech that, if President Obama had given it, would have gotten him reamed out for showing favoritism — for not being the American president but just the black president.” If a different version of Hillary Clinton had shown up, it would have come off as pandering to black people. But that afternoon in the Schomburg, things clicked in a way they really hadn’t before. She wasn’t any less of an Establishment white politician than she was before, but you could tell that she’s coming to terms with the reality that if she wants to actually connect in a way that many people believe she can’t, she’s got to understand and own up to everything and, through both humility and intelligence, prove that she’s ready to push forward.

My identity as a Muslim was never forefront in my life until September 11, 2001, when all of a sudden, nobody cared who I was, but only cared that I was a Muslim. This powerful piece by Afsheen Farhadi explores how our Muslim identities have been almost forced upon us:

Before September 11th I didn’t have shame or pride in my racial otherness. Afterwards, both emerged like branches of the same tree. On the morning of, I remember a brief and vague conversation with my mother, in which she asked, more to herself than to me, whether or not I should go to school. I didn’t quite understand where this was coming from. I know now that she meant the news was so big, she couldn’t imagine anything occurring that day except for the exchange of passions, which could, in my particular case, be undesirable. But at the time, I assumed she worried with maternal exaggeration that the attack was not over, that Vista Verde Middle School could be its next target.