The concept of blogging again is enticing and dreadful. We will see. Someone got me excited about a project today that was um, exciting.
Some folks have been asking me to post my Lenny intros here, so here you go. This is from Lenny No. 30.
It’s me! My name is Mikki Halpin, and I’m Lenny’s new editor at large. And for my first newsletter introduction, I want to tell you about Neko Atsume. It is a daily source of joy for me, and a philosophical framework that reinforces some of my deeply held values. It is also a game about cats that I play on my phone. Laugh if you want. I am at peace.
Here is what happens in the game: You have a yard, where adorable cats come to visit. You feed the adorable cats, and in gratitude they leave you fish. You use the fish to buy more food and toys. The cats are delighted, and other cats join them. They leave you more fish. You buy them more toys and watch them play. It is an endless circle of gifts and toys and love and fish. No matter where you are or how stressed you may be, you can grab your phone, open the app, and see happy little cats playing in the sun and smiling at you. I don’t meditate or anything, but I think Neko Atsume is really fucking Zen.
Ultimately Neko Atsume is about kindness. You give, and you get in return, and it’s always beautiful. I try to bring the generosity and wonder of Neko Atsume into my daily life, but I wish Neko Atsume really were my daily life. I love this fantasy, and I believe fantasies are important, even if they can’t come true. They are a map for changing the world you actually live in.
Speaking of worlds, I’m enchanted by the one where Lena’s fantasy feminist band B.I.T.C.H. rocks Coachella. Let’s make Dwörkin rock a real thing. We also have Jenn Romolini’s clear-eyed account of her daughter C’s struggles in school. The gendered ways that teachers and administrators responded to C’s unconventional behavior are sharp examples of how early in life we are pressured to conform — but, told by a loving mother, this story offers a lesson on how to stay weird.
The vibrator industry still hasn’t fully embraced its queer customers, reports Larissa Pham in her piece about the folks who design our buzzy little friends. C’mon, people, get it together! On a more serious note, Lenny deputy editor Laia Garcia spoke with an epidemiologist in Puerto Rico about Zika and discovered just how little we know about the virus — although we do know some good ways to keep yourself safe. Every woman needs to read this.
Singer Betty Davis’s “He Was a Big Freak” has been one of my mixtape secret weapons for a long time, so it was a thrill to read Jess Rotter’s account of Betty’s life as the latest installment of Songbird Stories. “Freak” is off her second album, which Betty wrote and produced herself before retiring from the music scene.
I hope you enjoy the different worlds this issue has to offer, and that you honor your fantasies about what our world could and should be like. Probably it needs more cats.
Some folks have been asking me to post my Lenny intros here, so here you go. This is from Lenny No. 37.
Over Memorial Day weekend, I spent a few days at the beach with a group of women (and one man!) I love and admire so much it almost hurts. We did every cheesy beach thing you can think of: running into the ocean as a group, drinking umbrella drinks in the middle of the day, making s’mores on the grill. We also enjoyed some more idiosyncratic activities: a candlelight memorial for a dead cat, several discussions about Anohni’s recent concert, and a pizza night that included vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options. I came home exhausted and full of feminist light.
Though I appreciate a weekend of group bonding, I’ve also had wonderful solo trips — like a glorious trip to the Middle East several years back — which is why I appreciate this week’s essay by Lisa Goldberg about traveling alone. She perfectly captures the anxiety, unexpected triumphs, and serendipitous joys of making your way through uncharted territory on your own. And I love that while Lisa is testing her limits, her mother — though worried — comes to appreciate the emotional stretch that such journeys can provide.
Robin Thede — head writer of The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore — has some sobering stats in her piece about the dearth of minority and women writers in the entertainment industry. A couple of examples: only 28.7 percent of television writers are women, and only 7 percent of film writers are minorities. (And it must be noted that the categories “women” and “minorities” are not mutually exclusive.) Happily, Robin brings news of a concrete policy solution that you can help support.
It’s been almost three years since the #BlackLivesMatter movement launched in response to George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Francey Russell traces a related project, one that documents the racialized murders of the past. Constructing memorials and markers for lynchings is a necessary step for us to remember and acknowledge these events, and let them inform our relationship to the present.
Our latest installment of Rumors I Heard About My Body has Jess dropping some Truth and Science about our old friend the pill. It definitely has the word mucus in it, and it’s definitely worth a read, if you’ve got the body parts and the sex life that make the pill an option for you.
Finally, take a virtual vacation with the photographs of Melissa Forde. Melissa’s work often appears on her best friend Rihanna’s Instagram, but it deserves a stand-alone look. In addition to the many images of RiRi, there are also what feel like meaningful pauses in a nonstop adventurous life: a moment pulling into port, or a shot of an airplane soaring away, having dropped you onto yet another island. (Do they ever get sick of islands?) As Lena puts it, Forde “appreciates and captures both the natural world and the artifice of stardom.”
Personally, I’m hungry for more island life — dead-cat rituals and all. Please pass the candle.
Mikki, Lenny’s editor at large
Some folks have been asking me to post my Lenny intros here, so here you go. This is from Lenny No. 42.
I feel like I usually write “Hi Lennys!,” but that feels weird right now. I don’t think anyone could possibly be feeling OK, or feeling like using exclamation points right now, except to say “What the fuck!” or something like that. A horrible thing about horrors is that we witness them, experience them, survive them — and then we have to live with them. Not only that, we need to protect our brothers and sisters and do all we can to stop the horrors and the injustices, and that can feel like an insurmountable problem that we just throw anger and grief at and nothing ever changes.
There are two kinds of things that help me in times like this, and I will share them with you. I show up to the rallies. I go and I scream and I shout and I march and I feel a connection with all my activist friends and those who are outraged along with me. I hope that everyone “watching at home” will realize that there is a fight they can join. I support Black Lives Matter in every way I can. As a straight, cis, white person, I shut up on social media and support the voices of those being targeted and those whose lived experiences should be heard.
The other thing I do is connect with my neighborhood. I went down to the community garden to sign up for a plot and got to talking with a lady who also has a bad back and helped her out with her weeds. Just working side by side, not talking, was incredibly hopeful. I’m also joining our local Copwatch Patrol Unit, a group that teaches people their rights in police interactions — as well as techniques to survive those interactions. Cop Watch Patrol Unit documents police interactions with civilians and holds the police accountable for their actions. I’ve worked with them before, when the police were harassing the black students at a high school nearby. Honestly, I am not in much danger of being shot by a cop, but I do have the ability to support people and movements, and there is no better place to do it than in your own community. If you want more ideas, writer Ijeoma Oluo has strong suggestions on what those who feel helpless should be doing — give her impassioned list a read and some thought.
Many of our stories today are about comfort and healing and self-care. Pearl Gabel, herself an adult thumb-sucker, spoke to others who practice the same self-soothing technique long past childhood. Just realizing she was not the only one was a healing moment. Lenny contributing writer Kaitlyn Greenidge spoke to Chirlane McCray, the First Lady of New York City, about McCray’s efforts to destigmatize mental-health issues and make access to mental-health care simple and affordable for all New Yorkers.
Emily Rapp Black’s relationship with her grad-school mentor began as a professional one, but it grew into an ecosystem of mutual nurturing, especially when Black’s son died at age three. Black writes of mentors: “They observe and accompany the darkest despair, the wildest sorrow, and the most unexpected joy.” We all need that in our lives.
We also have the story of Gillian McCain, the co-author of Please Kill Me — and a woman who got very little credit for her work on this widely known, influential book. Restoring lost history rights wrongs we didn’t even know were there. Finally, feel the power of the women in Jenn Woodall’s Fight! zine — superheroines who are ready to throw down for what they believe in. I’m ready to do that, in all the ways that work for me. I hope you find your way as well.
Mikki, editor at large
Some folks have been asking me to post my Lenny intros here, so here you go. This is from Lenny No. 47.
I’m writing to you in a GREAT MOOD because I just finally got my air conditioner fixed after five straight days of near-90-degree heat in my apartment. It did not feel good, as anyone who follows me on Twitter can attest. My ability to withstand this trial is on point, though, because, as Jenni said in an email: “There’s a real physical/mental endurance theme this week, and I’m into it!” I’m into it too.
Ottavia Bourdain kicks the issue off, telling us about her jujitsu training. Years of practice have given her incredible mental and physical toughness, as well as the quiet confidence of knowing she can take down an opponent twice her size. Another athlete, Olympic runner Alexi Pappas, shares her story about the pain that athletes endure and the way she has learned to parse that pain in her head. Pushing our bodies can bring great rewards — but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.
Other trials are not chosen ones. Megan Kelly and Claire Typaldos recount their time working at a refugee camp in Greece where migrants, having survived a treacherous sea journey, were often left in political limbo, at the mercy of international tribunals made up of the very countries that persecute them. The people living in camp Moria, despite being stateless and in constant peril of forced repatriation, nonetheless found moments of happiness, beauty, and even hope — until they were made to leave their temporary haven.
Also in this issue, our contributing writer Kaitlyn Greenidge interviews the writer Natashia Deon, and our deputy editor Laia Garcia talks with Tabitha Soren about her photography. (Yes, that Tabitha Soren.) What I like about these pieces is not only the opportunity to hear from two complex female artists, but also that both have used their storytelling and observational skills to excel in many ways. Deon is a novelist and a defense lawyer; Soren is a photographer, a documentarian, and was once the journalist from MTV News that I, for one, dreamed of being.
My Great Air-Conditioning Struggle of 2016 does not compare to the challenges any of these women have conquered, by a long shot. It did bring me perspective, though, which is the very least any shitty experience can do. If you, Lenny readers, are going through a thing right now, I’m sending you my very best thoughts for cool air on the other side.
Also this is in the Nussbaum profile and it is amazing:
Nussbaum is currently writing a book on aging, and when I first proposed the idea of a Profile I told her that I’d like to make her book the center of the piece. She responded skeptically, writing in an e-mail that she’d had a long, varied career, adding, “I’d really like to feel that you had considered various aspects of it and that we had a plan that had a focus.” She typically responded within an hour of my sending an e-mail. “Do you feel that you have such a plan?” she asked me. “I’d like to hear the pros and cons in your view of different emphases.” She wasn’t sure how I could encompass her œuvre, since it covered so many subjects: animal rights, emotions in criminal law, Indian politics, disability, religious intolerance, political liberalism, the role of humanities in the academy, sexual harassment, transnational transfers of wealth. “The challenge for you would be to give readers a road map through the work that would be illuminating rather than confusing,” she wrote, adding, “It will all fall to bits without a plan.” She described three interviews that she’d done, and the ways in which they were flawed. Among other things, they hadn’t captured her devotion to teaching and to her students. One of the interviews, she said, had made her “look like a person who has contempt for the contributions of others, which is one of the biggest insults that one could direct my way.”
I was reading the intense profile of Martha Nussbaum in the New Yorker and it says this at one point:
In an Aristotelian spirit, Nussbaum devised a list of ten essential capabilities that all societies should nourish, including the freedom to play, to engage in critical reflection, and to love. The capabilities theory is now a staple of human-rights advocacy.
I was intrigued so I went and looked up what is on the list—it’s pasted below. I don’t agree with all of it but it’s really interesting.
Core Rights Within an Ethical Society
1. Life. Being able to live to the end of a human life of normal length; not dying prematurely, or before one’s life is so reduced as to be not worth living.
2. Bodily Health. Being able to have good health, including reproductive health; to be adequately nourished; to have adequate shelter.
3. Bodily Integrity. Being able to move freely from place to place; to be secure against violent assault, including sexual assault and domestic violence; having opportunities for sexual satisfaction and for choice in matters of reproduction.
4. Senses, Imagination, and Thought. Being able to use the senses, to imagine, think, and reason—and to do these things in a “truly human” way, a way informed and cultivated by an adequate education, including, but by no means limited to, literacy and basic mathematical and scientific training. Being able to use imagination and thought in connection with experiencing and producing works and events of one’s own choice, religious, literary, musical, and so forth. Being able to use one’s mind in ways protected by guarantees of freedom of expression with respect to both political and artistic speech, and freedom of religious exercise. Being able to have pleasurable experiences and to avoid non-beneficial pain.
5. Emotions. Being able to have attachments to things and people outside ourselves; to love those who love and care for us, to grieve at their absence; in general, to love, to grieve, to experience longing, gratitude, and justified anger. Not having one’s emotional development blighted by fear and anxiety. (Supporting this capability means supporting forms of human association that can be shown to be crucial in their development.)
6. Practical Reason. Being able to form a conception of the good and to engage in critical reflection about the planning of one’s life. (This entails protection for the liberty of conscience and religious observance.)
Being able to live with and toward others, to recognize and show concern for other humans, to engage in various forms of social interaction; to be able to imagine the situation of another. (Protecting this capability means protecting institutions that constitute and nourish such forms of affiliation, and also protecting the freedom of assembly and political speech.)
Having the social bases of self-respect and non-humiliation; being able to be treated as a dignified being whose worth is equal to that of others. This entails provisions of non-discrimination on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, caste, religion, national origin and species.
8. Other Species. Being able to live with concern for and in relation to animals, plants, and the world of nature.
9. Play. Being able to laugh, to play, to enjoy recreational activities.
10. Control over one’s Environment.
Political. Being able to participate effectively in political choices that govern one’s life; having the right of political participation, protections of free speech and association.
Material. Being able to hold property (both land and movable goods), and having property rights on an equal basis with others; having the right to seek employment on an equal basis with others; having the freedom from unwarranted search and seizure. In work, being able to work as a human, exercising practical reason and entering into meaningful relationships of mutual recognition with other workers.