Inhalations and Exhalations (recommendations?)

My weekly critical roundup in which I tell you about all the things I am inhaling right now. Generally, they will be things that I suggest you may enjoy inhaling, too [insert a Gabriel-Roth-style bit about “recommendations”].


Roxane Gay, Hunger; and Lindy West, Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman: I have a lot to say about both of these books.

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Patricia Lockwood, “Rape Joke.” This poem lands about two-thirds of the way through a slim volume released in 2014 called Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals. I picked it up at the library because of the irresistible, beautiful and hilarious Priestdaddy, Lockwood’s memoir, which I read in 2017. Every single damn sentence in that book is breathtaking and so precisely whittled it might as well be the David. It was The Book that I shoved into people’s hands repeatedly in 2017. But anyway. “Rape Joke” is a poem for which Lockwood got some amount of attention when she first published it, and it stings – given my recent reading of Lindy West and Roxane Gay (on rape jokes and on the very unfunny rape itself), it makes sense that this poem chose me. I’m still not finished with it – or rather, it is still not finished with me.

Lili Loofbourow, “Why Society Goes Easy On Rapists.” Wow, now that I write all these down, the theme in what has been choosing me is really…subtle. Maybe it’s because lawmakers all over the country are passing abortion bans and effectively dehumanizing any woman into a carrier of a baby, however voluntary or involuntary. Just a guess. Wonderful writing as always by Loofbourow, who is also the author of one of my all-time favorite pieces of cultural criticism, “The Male Glance.” This is both more concrete and more nebulous at the same time. For this piece, Loofbourow began compiling a threaded list of sexual assailants who got no jail time, and then as a prelude to addressing her list, offered this reflection: “The trouble with the anger that a thread like mine provokes—which is ostensibly just pointing out the ways we fail to punish rape—is that it twists all too easily into a call for more punishment. Lists have a rhetoric. They tend asymptotically toward specific arguments, and the implication of mine gave me pause. We know what lies down that road because we’ve tried it: Stricter sentencing guidelines, for instance, always hit minorities and disadvantaged people first and hardest. If anger is an engine, the risk is always that even with good intentions it will power bad outcomes—especially when that anger feels justified by facts.”

The good essays are the ones where the headline only hints at the depth and the thought underneath, and whenever I read something of Loofbourow’s, I get about a thousand times more than I bargained for.

Carvell Wallace, “Should eighth-graders be throwing parties without parents present? This is Carvell Wallace’s last Care and Feeding column for, and I am going to miss him so much. Read every single column he’s ever written, even if you don’t have any eighth-graders throwing parties of any sort. His principles of parenting are so strong and they shine through in every answer. His parting words: There is a feeling I always think of, the feeling of holding my kids when they were about 4 years old. I think of their warmth and the fragility of their bodies, how I could feel their little bones through their skin, their little hearts beating and pumping life through them. I think of how responsible I felt for their care and safety, how all-encompassing and defining that love is. That feeling is a long way away from the anger I feel when they don’t put away the dishes, or fail biology, or dissemble about where they were and whom they were with last night. And in those unhappy moments, my parenting is driven by that anger, which of course is cover for fear. So what I’ve learned to do is to return—over and over again—to that feeling of love. The feeling of holding them, of caring for them and protecting them. Because it is my job. Because I am the adult. Because even when they are taller than me and can get to the mall by themselves to buy clothes that I won’t even know about for a week, they’re still children and they still need me to be a grown-up. Returning to that love is how we recover and how we grow. My final piece of advice is to go forth in that love, and return to it however and whenever you can. Thank you for letting me be of service.

Deep breath. Carvell is such a good writer, there is no way this is the last time I’ll read him.


Killing Eve, Season 1: Yes, I am late to this show, but now that my Phoebe Waller-Bridge obsession has been reignited thanks to Fleabag Season 2 (oh yes, more coming on that) I had to insist that we start watching on Hulu, annoying ads and all. My husband remarked that his main issue with the show is that he keeps wanting it to be The Americans, and it’s not. I think he’s exactly right: The Americans is focused on methodical, painstaking process. It is a very sexy show without ever feeling like it’s trying overly hard to be so. Killing Eve is, I think, very conscious of what it is, which is to say a show with cliffhangers at the end of every episode, with teeth-gritting chase sequences that border on the improbable, and with characters who act irrationally in ways that are meant to intrigue and surprise us but not necessarily convince us. It is, I think, profoundly aware of its fictionality – like a Quentin Tarantino movie, as I’ve heard it said, it doesn’t need or even want you to forget that you’re watching (a TV show in this case). So while I do feel profound nostalgia for The Americans’ firm commitment to verisimilitude in the way it shows its characters doing the work, Killing Eve is a thrilling chase, and Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer are amazing in it. Still one episode left in the season, so no spoilers! Plot-related suspense is the currency of this show!


Work Play Love, episode 46, “5K Workouts, Hard Conversations, Sleep Before Race Day, Investing Your Time, Multi-Level Marketing with Lauren Fleshman and Jesse Thomas was particularly good this week, as I mentioned above – perhaps due in large part to Jesse’s being both underslept and hopped up on chocolate-covered espresso beans, much to Lauren’s hilarious dismay. Like Lili Loofbourow and Carvell Wallace, the headline itself rarely intrigues me much (5k workouts and sleep before race day, yay? Or…topics I’ve heard covered hundreds of times?) but the answers often go to the places I didn’t know I needed to go. Pay attention to what you pay attention to. Check.

ZigZag, season 4, episode 4, “When Your Gut Tells You It’s Time to END Your Company - have you ever thought about the idea of “performative vulnerability”? Is that…what I am doing? I hope not, but at the same time, you could argue that there is no way for someone to write a blog like this one that is not somehow performative even as it is vulnerable. Also, who are you if you are not what you do? This conversation between Manoush Zomorodi and Grace Bonney, founder of Design*Sponge, talk about Grace’s decision to shut down her company after 15 successful years. Didn’t automatically think I would find the interview meaningful, but it goes to some places. You can absolutely listen to it as a standalone episode even if you’ve never heard of the podcast.

ZigZag was created by two women, Manoush Zomorodi and Jen Poyant (formerly of Note To Self, which is apparently BACK after a hiatus). They left their jobs at WNYC a little over a year ago to start their own platform. Season 1 is a fascinating documentary about the process of getting it started and the reasons for leaving WNYC – if you’re interested in the personal stories, then definitely start there. What am I saying, just start wherever and listen!). I’d say that the current season (4) is actually a great place to start, as well: it’s a unique, in-depth, intellectual exploration of entrepreneurship. Season 3, also excellent, follows the lifecycle of an idea in a really thoughtful and fascinating way (and you will also learn a lot about cryptocurrency, something I understood not at all before encountering this show). I’m behind on ZigZag – s.4 ep. 6 actually aired this week, and this is 4 – but it doesn’t go stale, and I love having a few episodes in a row to bust through. I tend to save it for days when I’m prepared to think deep, because that’s where it always takes me.

And finally, Mom and Dad Are Fighting, the Pollen Prank edition. I would be remiss in not commenting on this episode even though it aired last week, as it was the final episode with hosts Gabriel Roth and Carvell Wallace (of Care and Feeding fame). Rebecca Lavoie, thank goodness, will continue to host the show, and the permanent new co-hosts will, I assume, be revealed in good time. As a send-off, all three hosts talk about what really matters in parenting, and similar to Carvell’s final words in Care and Feeding transcribed above, the conversation felt honestly transcendent. If you’ve never listened to these three and you listen to them talk on this episode and think to yourself, “I NEED MORE OF THIS,” never fear – there is a two-year back-catalogue of Carvell, Gabe and Rebecca, who have some of the best podcast chemistry in podcasting, in my opinion. I have learned a lot from them over these last two years and undoubtedly made strides in becoming a better, more empathetic parent thanks to them.

Note: Dan Kois is back for the June 6th episode, and as much as I miss Gabe and Carvell, Dan is awesome. Hi Dan! I’m glad, because I love that this podcast has always had the perspectives of fathers along with mothers. Thank you Slate, for yet another fantastically well-made podcast.