the wuthering

If you’ve known me for a while, you know that in the late 2000s/early 2010s I was a Nerdfighter, an inside-joke term for fans of the YouTube channel vlogbrothers. Like a lot of things from that time in my life, I still turn to the vlogbrothers channel when I need comfort or advice or community: it reminds me of a time in my life when things were easier.

Hank (one-half of the vlogbrothers) recently put out an 11-minute video called “The Sudden Obliteration of Expectation.” It’s one of the most powerful vlogbrothers videos I’ve seen in my time watching them.

Hank discusses the concept of the “new normal,” that adjustment period that chronically ill and disabled people typically experience at diagnosis. It’s also what everyone experiences during any sudden and uncontrollable shift in their life. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing the majority of the world adjust to the kind of “new normal” that disabled and chronically ill people have been experiencing for years: left out of in-person events, being homebound or bedbound, experiencing loneliness and isolation. To be blunt, everyone is experiencing an unprecedented kind of mass grief. This video helped me get a little bit of a handle on it. Even if you’ve never considered watching vlogbrothers, or just know them as “those Crash Course/SciShow guys,” I hope it might help you, also.

i hope this email finds you well in the global pandemic

i used to be good at email marketing

ID: a black-and-white 1918 photo of a woman wearing a protective face mask and typing on a typewriter. via National Archives

hello newsletter subscribers. i have been working on an issue of the newsletter for some time. it’s about young adult literature with chronically ill characters and it’s important to me and i love it.

but i’ve been holding off on publishing it because 1) i can’t seem to finish it in a way that i’m happy with, and 2) it feels irrelevant because of coronavirus.

i have health anxiety (a polite psychiatric term for hypochondria) so my fears around, you know, a global pandemic are more heightened than the average person’s. but i know this whole situation sucks for everyone in the chronic illness and disability community especially. from everyday fears about the virus, to healthy people diminishing the meaning of lives of people with preexisting conditions, to a broken healthcare system, to a lack of paid sick leave, to the president telling bald-faced lies, to xenophobia and racism, to price gouging of essential goods like disinfectant wipes, it’s not an easy time to be a chronically ill or disabled person. it’s not any easy time to be a person.

i just want to say that i’m here for you and i know this is really hard. i’m struggling to stay optimistic and not let my anxiety consume me, and it’s okay if you are, too.

i lost my job today. (i know, i buried the lede, right?) i was working as a copywriter at a luxury travel agency. i felt like i was the only one taking the coronavirus situation seriously. i continued to write blog posts about beach hotels in brazil and cruises on the peruvian amazon while monitoring the global situation in an incognito tab, feeling, well, like a overreacting hypochondriac. i’m far from the first person to make this comparison, but i felt like the protagonist in Ling Ma’s novel Severance, the millennial who dutifully attends to her manhattan office job while a fever (the fever itself a parody of the way capitalism makes people act) overtakes the city, the country, and society around her.

when i started noticing articles saying things like “the travel industry hasn’t taken this big of a hit since 9/11,” i knew i was probably going to be laid off. i just didn’t know when. i thought it would be the end of march, maybe, or april. it’s a tiny company. i was one of four people in the office.

i planned to talk to my coworkers about it, to see if they were worried. i don’t see the sales side of things, i just write blog posts. i can see right through the way they were trying to counter-market the virus. i was asked to upload posts with titles like “5 Reasons We Love to Travel,” “WAY-Off-the-Grid Travel Ideas,” and even offer discounts on cruises and flights.

on thursday, i asked my coworker what he thought. it was a few minutes before he was about to leave on a weekend backpacking trip. “i’m going to be real with you, i’m really worried,” i said. “my role here is so small.” he told me it would be okay. “the media is overblowing this whole thing,” he said. “it’s just like the flu. some old people will get sick and die, and it will all blow over.” then he pulled up the sales statistics. last january: around $300,000. last february: $250,000. this february: $41,000.

my boss is still in denial. when he emailed me (yes) this morning to tell me, in his british-english email etiquette, that he was “afraid we needed to hold off on having you do any more work,” he closed that sentence with “for the short term.” “with the downturn in the stock market and the coronavirus spread, we have significant financial uncertainty ahead,” he wrote, a jaunty little rhyming poem. he added, “i really hope we are over this hump quickly and that you can come back to help us very soon.”

i’m 22. i have never been laid off before. this is a stupid office job that pays twelve dollars an hour. but it’s my livelihood. it’s how i pay rent and buy food and go to concerts and buy stupid butterfly shirts from the junior’s section at ross dress for less. i stayed home sick anyway, canceled my therapy appointment; i have a cold, which is of course doing amazing things for my anxiety. no fever, i know because i’ve checked my temperature about five times today. i stared at my phone. i rolled over on my bed and cried. i know that’s dramatic, but what else am i supposed to do.

i’m feeling a lot better emotionally; i got some job leads from this tweet i made in a panicked frenzy, which got retweeted by kristin freakin’ chirico from buzzfeed, among many other lovely and generous people.

i emailed my boss back to tell him i was sorry and i understood. when i replied, he said, “we will be in touch when this blows over.” personally, i don’t know if it will.

support me on ko-fi ♡

thank you for reading. i’ll see you soon with a normal newsletter.

love,

alex

we are gonna make it through this year

header photo by kohel314 on flickr.

image description: a verdant forest overrun with lichen.

dear friends,

i know i’ve been pretty quiet for the past couple of months. i want to kick off this year in newsletter-ing with a discussion thread: what does 2020 hold in store for you? do you have plans? goals? hibernation? just surviving? world domination? do you have goals regarding your mental health? physical health? career stuff? do you simply want to lie in the forest, cover yourself with various native mosses, and take a nap?

talk to me! i miss you.

more content coming soon.

love,

alex. 💜

Reply →

I'm gonna do my own talking

A Turner Classic Movies Fever Dream

a dispatch from the inside of my brain

ID: Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) rolls her eyes.

The first time I remember watching the 1952 film Singin’ in the Rain, I was in middle school social studies class. Our teacher, a (cis-het, white, male) libertarian who liked to say things like “The Civil War wasn’t actually about slavery,” showed us the movie, ostensibly to showcase the historical transition between silent movies and talkies. But I had noticed a pattern in my teachers, all of whom were working in unstable, difficult conditions under the late-2000s, union-busted, Scott-Walker-dictated climate of Wisconsin public schools. Whenever they didn’t really want to teach, they just put on a movie. So I found myself watching Gene Kelly dance ridiculously.

If you somehow haven’t seen Singin’ in the Rain, the film follows 1920s Hollywood actors Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly), Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) and Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds). Don and Lina are working for a silent film company that quickly realizes they need to, uh, pivot to video — to with sound. Talking pictures! However, an issue quickly arises: while Lina is visually stunning on the screen (“she’s so refined, I think I’ll kill myself,” one audience member says, Mean Girls style), her speaking voice is abrasive, nasally and high-pitched.

Because Singin’ in the Rain is a comedy, this plot point is played for laughs. In fact, Lina doesn’t even speak for the first thirteen minutes of the film, but stands next to Don while he gives speeches at the awards show, a ventriloquist’s doll, a visual idol. Then, when she finally does speak, she says things like HEY WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA in a Muppet’s voice. She’s completely oblivious to the fact that people don’t like her voice.

This is all I could focus on while watching the film in that class, and it’s something I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since.

We talk about women’s voices a lot. Outspoken women are “shrill,” rich women with vocal fry are vapid, women end every sentence? like a question?, women speak with ephemeral “low and thrilling” voices that make people lean towards them, women squeak and warble, women have voices that are dark like tinted glass, women fake their voices to be deeper so that they may collect more people’s blood. This 2016 article, which mentions the copious amount of criticism that Hillary Clinton received for her voice, asks, Can a woman’s voice ever be right?

I have this voice disorder called muscle tension dysphonia, which basically means that the muscles around my vocal cords tense up and make my voice really strained and high pitched — essentially, when this is happening, it sounds like I’m always about to cry. It happens when it’s hot outside or when I exercise or when I can’t breathe and, as I’ve discovered recently, it happens when I’m stressed. It’s been happening for the past couple of weeks and I feel extremely weird about it. Combined with the fact that I’m getting sinus surgery in a few weeks, which means not only is my voice nasally as hell but I’m also stressed about the surgery, my voice is pretty messed up right now.

And I am extremely aware of it all. I hate talking to my coworkers, I hate answering the phone, I hate straining to be understood. I don’t want to interview anyone or be interviewed by anyone. (Also a few days ago I was in a Starbucks bathroom and I guess the lock was broken and someone started entering the code and I tried to do the whole “uh, occupied!” thing three times except he couldn’t hear me so he just entered the bathroom anyway, which was great.)

So anyway, back to the Gene Kelly flick.

[ID: a GIF of Don singing to Kathy in the iconic scene, awash in pink light in a movie set. The GIF is captioned “You were meant for me.”

Caption: Don Lockwood puts the moves on Kathy, the beautiful woman with the clear, full voice and the transatlantic accent, by trespassing onto a movie set.

The film hinges almost entirely on the inadequacy of female voices, of Lina’s voice and its direct opposition to audiences (meta and otherwise) perceiving her as beautiful. Lina is portrayed as unlikeable, her voice hitting pitch tones somewhere between the Wicked Witch of the West and Betty Boop. Kathy is to provide the voiceover for Lina and receive on-screen credit for doing so, not only for this film, but as Lina demands, for the next five years, which would render both women's careers basically nonexistent. I’m not expecting this sixty-seven-year-old film to be a pinnacle of feminist thought, but there’s something to be said about the fact that the plot revolves entirely on the pitting of two women against each other for one reason: their voices.

Beyond the film’s portrayal of women, other concerns exist in the casting and filming of the movie. Debbie Reynolds (Kathy) was 19 and Gene Kelly was 40. Gene was short-tempered and disliked Debbie Reynolds, despite the fact that she danced until blood vessels burst in her feet, sometimes slept overnight on set to avoid her 4:00 a.m. bus commute, endured a non-consensual French kiss from Gene Kelly, and eventually remarked in her memoir that making Singin’ in the Rain and giving birth were the two hardest things she’d ever had to do.

[ID: Lina Lamont, in a sparkly evening gown, snarls at three executive men in tuxedos.)

Caption: “Everybody’s always making speeches for me, but tonight I’m gonna do my own talking, I’m gonna make the speech!”

Lina storms onstage and gives a speech with her normal voice, clashing midatlantic speech patterns (“the dahncing cavalier”) and lower-class colloquialisms (“our hard work ain’t been in vain for nothin’”), confusing the audience. She’s asked to sing, and rushes backstage panicking. The men yell at both women and force Kathy to sing from behind the curtain. Kathy says that she’ll do it, but that she never wants to see Don again. The audience falls for the trick until the men decide to raise the curtain, exposing the whole facade. The audience bursts into raucous laughter. Lina runs away, and so does Kathy, but Don yells for the audience to stop Kathy, and starts singing to her. They sing romantically to each other and go on to star in another movie, Singin’ in the Rain, having made up I guess because Don allowed Kathy to have her own career. We never see Lina again.

As this Hairpin (RIP) piece says: Lina Lamont dances for no one. She doesn’t have a song of her own in the film, but she absolutely should. Kathy, the quiet, proper, palatable girl with the beautiful voice is brought out from behind the curtain, and Lina is effectively swept behind it. Yes, Lina is a bad bitch — dare I say, radically unpleasant? — but we don’t get to see where she and her fiercely unlikeable voice end up. I get that this film is a classic. The dance scenes are joyful. The costumes are fantastic. But it’s hard to focus on this film as a piece of practically perfect cinema when all I can think about is the disappearance of my gorgeous problematic fave, Lina!!!

I want to apologize for my voice every time I open my mouth. It’s a different situation than Lina’s; I’m not outspoken and shrill but rather too quiet and, on bad days, too difficult for this normative society to understand. Even though my gut instinct is to say sorry before I begin saying what I actually want to say, and even though I am going to do voice therapy because I want to feel confident again, I’m not going to apologize for the way my body works.

It’s almost the ‘20s again. I’m going to Daisy Buchanan this shit with the confidence of Lina Lamont. People will just have to lean in.

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puresound letter 002: remembering everyone

In 1984 I was hospitalized for approaching perfection

image description: an outstretched hand holding a bright carton of fresh blueberries. i have drawn cartoon yellow “light” lines surrounding the berry carton. overlaid text: “puresound letter 002” “remembering everyone”

image credit: againstcotton

I meant to publish this newsletter in August, so some of these things might seem a little outdated. Life is hard and I’m not gonna apologize for it because I keep holding myself to unrealistic deadlines and I gotta stop doing that.


Was August also kind of a weird month for you? July faded out as quickly as it came and left us all heat-wave-addled and exhausted. August was a long stretch of dusty pavement and the last of the berry harvest, summer jobs and tying up loose ends. I get in my head a lot during August because there’s my diagnosaversary (seven years bitch!!!) and my birthday (22 years bitch!!!!!!) and several birthdays of people who we have loved and lost. And there’s usually back-to-school as well, but I recently graduated college so I’m in this period where I just work at a restaurant five days a week and keep my dark purple diploma on my dresser so I can look at it and remember that I never have to worry about failing Music Theory II again or spending two hundred dollars on a digital access code for a Spanish textbook. My girlfriend is still in college which is great because I can go over to her apartment and experience all the great things about (liberal arts, women’s) college like drinking sangria out of a mason jar and watching Spiderman: Into The Spiderverse while slowly sinking into someone’s deflating air mattress and bruising my ribs on the linoleum without having to write a 16-page paper the next day.

Anyway.

This issue of the newsletter is about remembering things and people. I’ve been hung up on the phrase “remembering everyone” ever since the Mountain Goats used it in their In League With Dragons album earlier this year, and because I took a class entirely focused on memoir and my phenomenal professor had us all deep-dive into the act of memory and remembering and truthiness and reliving stuff. In their respective memoirs, both Keah Brown and Nina G. remember a lot of people who have helped them and hurt them, because I guess memoir is as much about remembering other people as it is about remembering yourself.

I also called it remembering everyone because I feel like we’re losing a lot of people. In a devastating turn of events, we lost Nobel Prize winner and gift to the earth Toni Morrison. It’s hard to know what quite to say about someone whose work had so much effect on the literary world and the minds of so many readers. I recommend the Toni Morrison episode of The Cut on Tuesdays, as a tribute.

We also lost poet/songwriter David Berman of the Silver Jews. I read Kaddish for David Berman in Jewish Currents which I think helped me understand his life and his work more, but it damn well didn’t make it any easier to listen to his most recent music, which was released shortly before his death by suicide, and, well, his headspace is pretty apparent in it. We lost Daniel Johnston, too; whose music I know helped a lot of people, and losing people whose work meant a lot to you always feels deeply strange, and so if you’re remembering someone who’s gone I’m thinking about you.

If my writing feels like it’s missing some punctuation it’s probably because I’ve been reading Luke O’Neil’s newsletter Welcome to Hell World. It’s for you if you don’t mind facing the difficult stuff head-on and also feel like you’re completely losing your mind every time you read news that strives for objectivity under fascism and violence, like if you kind of resonated with Beto O’Rourke shouting “Members of the press, what the fuck” even though he’s Beto O’Rourke. O’Neil, not to be confused with O’Rourke in any capacity, has been writing about his experience trying to treat his chronic pain, and reading his writing reminds me of the original reason for this newsletter: the fact that trying to write about your own pain, physical or psychic or existential, in any kind of way that another person can understand is a Herculean task.

I’ve been in a certain kind of grungey punkish mood (i’m not a real punk please no one come for me) listening to Daddy Issues and Pavement and Built to Spill and early Neutral Milk Hotel because it’s the only thing that makes my head feel clear when the 95-degree sky vacillates between cumulus clouds and thunderheads. Every once in a while the clouds split open and mercifully drench the asphalt but by early evening it’s muggy again and iridescent green insects skitter listlessly around. For reference I live in the US state of Georgia currently and every summer I wonder how much longer we’ll be blessed with fireflies.

Anyway, among all this I have for you two recommendations of some excellent memoirs-in-essays that recently brought me some light in the darkness.

Stutterer Interrupted: The Comedian Who Almost Didn’t Happen by Nina G.

image description: Nina G’s book, Stutterer Interrupted, which features a wide-open illustrated mouth with red lips against a turquoise background. The photo is taken against a background of trees with bits of blue sky.

You need a person like Nina in your life.

Nina and I are actually both from California, but we had to go all the way to Iceland to meet! My mom is a speech-language pathologist and, as a graduation present, invited me to come along with her to Iceland for an international stuttering conference. Even though I’m fluent (meaning I don’t stutter or have any other communicative disorders, save for a minor voice disorder), I’ve tagged along with my mom to a few stuttering conferences and usually opt to explore the surrounding area instead of attending presentations and panels, which are usually research-focused and full of people with PhDs talking about things way above my station. Last year I attended a stuttering conference in Rome, so I had plenty to explore. But the secluded area of this conference, in semi-rural Iceland, meant that unless I wanted to go solo hiking in drizzling weather, it was best for me to stick around and hear some presentations.

Going into this conference, I didn’t even think of it as a disability conference. Maybe because I’m so used to hearing about stuttering from a speech-language pathologist’s perspective, I had honestly mostly neglected the perspectives and lived experiences of people who stutter. At this conference, I met a vast range of people in the stuttering community. There were people from 26 different countries who all had their own experiences to share, and even as a fluent person I could feel what an incredible connection everyone at the conference was fostering.
While Nina’s book is mostly a memoir-in-essays, it really helped me understand how stuttering is incorporated in the Disability community. Nina also has dyslexia and learning disabilities, and shares her experience getting (or not getting) accommodations at a Catholic school in the ‘80s. Other topics include grad school, prom dates, and the weirdness of feeling validated by Howard Stern. She discusses her passion for comedy and all the comedians she looked up to growing up, and transforms the story of her career into an overarching look at being not only a stuttering female comedian, but a member of the Disability community and a person who is constantly learning and growing (as we all are!). Nina is an incredibly important — and funny — voice for people with learning disabilities and people who stutter, and I’m so glad her book is out in the world.

Nina has some comedy and interviews on YouTube! (Pro tip from Nina: Don’t go in the comments section, it’ll turn your brain into a public toilet.)

You can also follow Nina on Twitter.


The Pretty One by Keah Brown

image description: Keah Brown’s book The Pretty One against a background of sparkly fabric. The photo is overlayed with sparkle effects and slices of cheesecake.

I’d looked forward to Keah’s book since I started following her on Twitter sometime within the last year, and her book did not disappoint. Keah’s collection includes first-person essays about her experiences with cerebral palsy, being an identical twin, Black womanhood and Black disabled womanhood, romantic comedies, pop punk, #DisabledandCute (the hashtag she coined), chairs, and so much more. It’s written pretty conversationally, like talking with a friend. I got the print book, but ended up listening to the audiobook more often than physically reading, as I was commuting a lot, so I heard all of the essays in Keah’s own voice — literally. What I found most impressive about Keah’s writing was the way that she was able to incorporate discussions of ableism, oppression, and racism so easily into her work in a way that didn’t feel forced at all. It’s accessible (ha) without being pandering or patronizing and I think that’s really an accomplishment.

One of my favorite essays in the collection is “The Freedom of a Ponytail,” where she discusses how important it was to finally figure out how, as a disabled Black woman, to put her hair in a ponytail. It’s the kind of thing that most people don’t think about at all, and I’m deeply grateful to Keah for writing about it, because I think that’s kind of the gist of living with chronic illness or disability: celebrating accomplishments that seem insignificant to others, and finding ways to celebrate yourself along the way. I also really enjoyed Keah’s writing about Paramore and various films of her adolescence, and I hope she gets the chance to do more culture writing soon.

For as much as Keah writes about designer clothes and cheesecake, she’s not afraid to shy away from the difficult stuff, either. The last chapter of the book was one of the most emotional, where she discusses her history of suicidal ideation in high school and college. This is difficult to write about on its own, but she also discusses the idea that this is how disabled people are supposed to feel — we’re supposed to hate our bodies, yearn for different, more functional bodies, we’re supposed to feel broken. Keah erases these expectations by boldly expressing her love for her body and her life, no matter its differences. It sounds cheesy, but it really helped. I can see this book helping a lot of people, especially young women with chronic illness or disability.

Also: Because Keah writes about fashion and spending time at the mall with her friends as a teenager, I decided to take Keah to the mall. I took the above in front of some really sparkly fabric because idk, it felt like Keah would like it?

You can follow Keah Brown on Twitter.

image description: The Pretty One in front of a mall dressing-room mirror emblazoned with the word “fabulous!” in white neon.

and I had my own little #DisabledandCute moment listening to her audiobook on the train.

image description: Alex, a white woman with glasses and chest-length brown hair, also the author of this newsletter, on Atlanta public transportation. She has earbuds in and is listening to Keah’s book. She is #DisabledandCute.

a last note

A while ago my girlfriend Lydia and I were talking about the Mars One mission, that thing where a ship of incredibly healthy and optimally selected people are ostensibly going to go to Mars and never come back. Lydia asked if I’d go into space like when it’s commercialized recreationally and I said I’m too sick to go into space and she offered the hypothesis that if the two of us, herself a resident of the realm of alopecia and myself a thyroidsick girl and both of us women and homosexuals were to go into space together that our autoimmunity and space-travel-barring faults would cancel each other out. That is how math works I’m pretty sure

We’ll see you in the stars, friends

~alex

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