Welcome to Issue 38.1 of Digestable, your daily mouthful of real things happening in the world, minus alarmist pandemic news.
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Today’s news, fermented:
In the week since I took time away from work, I’ve been thinking a lot about communication and correspondence, and how much my phone stresses me out. More and more, it feels like when my phone is on, people are asking me for things, and when my phone is off, I actually have some agency over my time and thoughts.
Because our species has such huge brains, we’ve always had a broad portfolio of options about how to communicate. I guess some brains are bigger than others; we’re about to bid a president who only tweeted goodbye.
Our incoming leader has just chosen his communications team—it is, in the words of the NY Times, ‘all-female.’ As someone who constantly grapples with the hugeness of the dirty lie about both sex and gender binaries, I read that phrase and considered that choice and cringed before I had a chance to pause and think about its implications.
The first thing that came into my mind is, did Joe Biden chose all ‘females’ for his communications team because women don’t lie as much as men? Then I paused and recognized that I guess this is a milestone of sorts, a ‘let’s elevate one kind of underdog to hush the others while we continue to enforce our existing systems of power’ kind of milestone. (Yes, I know, this is important, but the time for making progress by merely inching away from the primordial soup has passed, has it not?)
I also can’t help but see the role of communicating on behalf of the US president as a kind of emotional labor—keeping the public calm, (at least in the recent past) covering for the president, smoothing over mistakes, maintaining limited transparency? Is it a milestone to have the team of people responsible for this task be women, or is it just a new manifestation of an old standard?
Here’s a shrimp (society) that leaves the safety of the water (patriarchy) to walk on land (you tell me).
The Second Look
Half-baked cultural criticism from Gabriel Coleman.
Fellas, is it gay to miss home? This question may have been playing in the mind of Numa Barned, a Union soldier in the U.S. Civil War who reported that listening to other soldiers play the song Home! Sweet Home! made him “feel queer.” Of course Barned’s use of queer is a few iterations away from the way we use the word, but I still think there’s something in the open sentimentality and disillusionment of homesickness that speaks to the queer experience. It’s definitely gay to leave home. So many queer folks - the ones that are able to - leave their home places in search for communities of love and acceptance, or to flee a dangerous or oppressive family life. The refrain to the song Home! Sweet Home! is more easily recognized for it’s central role in The Wizard of Oz, where gay saint and native Minnesotan Judy Garland recites it while clicking her heels: “There’s no place like home! There’s no place like home!”
Homesickness is one of the feelings that rules my life. I’ve made a lot of things about it including (shameless plug) an album that I released last week. I think a lot about my own relationship to home, but also the homesickness that shapes the place I grew up in. It’s a very old feeling in the western world: longing for eden, zion, or other promised lands in abrahamic traditions shows it, as does the Illiad’s loss of Troy and the Odyssey’s longing for Ithaca. The places I grew up in, the school I went to and the institutions around me are also products of the homesickness of others. I learned yesterday that the state tree of Minnesota, what I had been calling a “norway pine,” is just the Minnesota name for the North American red pine. Minnesotans came to call them norway pines because I guess they reminded some homesick nordie of home.
Frank Ocean is the patron saint of homesickness/nostalgia. A Black queer man dispaced from New Orleans because of Katrina, his music is steeped in this longing for home and a lost youth. The layers of homesickness and nostalgia embedded in Mr. Ocean’s life, and in all our lives make America a uniquely homesick place.
Turtle Island was colonized by people from elsewhere. Thanksgiving, a holiday popularly recognized as celebrating home and family, is at its root a colonial fantasy meant to mask the genocide, assimilation, and deportation of indigenous people from their home places. This land has been further settled by immigrants, refugees, and enslaved peoples from other elsewheres. Enslaved people were subject to additional displacement from their families and whatever home-places they were able to make on plantations through their sale and kidnapping. Then there’s this whole manifest destiny thing, the idea that for someone’s life to be of (monetary) value they had to migrate west, to seek their fortune on other stolen land. Taken together, this history has left us a nation of rootless peoples, longing for the feeling of a place we can’t quite remember, much less return to.
Last week, I was discussing James Cameron’s Avatar with Lena for The Polyculture Podcast, and we came to the realization that the movie attempts to cure a sort of wound non-Indigenous people have in the place where their connection to a landscape/place was severed. The fantasy the film presents is that these characters can just put on an Indigenous suit and plug their brains into the planet without an earned respect or knowledge of the land. It seems to me that all these feelings: homesickness, wanderlust, nostalgia, fernweh, could all be just different manifestations of this wound.
I’m too generationally separated from my ancestral immigration to understand anything close to that land connection, if it ever existed. And though I’m far removed from the place I am made of, I carry hope that I’m still heading there, maybe I’m just going the moose way home.
Brought to you by the superb Latifah Azlan.
Hello! It's been quite a while, hasn't it? I've missed spilling the tea with you and I'm so excited to be back writing this column, even though I do feel a bit rusty around this keyboard.
So I thought I'd restart with something low-risk and high-pleasure: the People's Sexiest Man ALIVE award! This extremely prestigious and not-at-all silly title is an annual feature by People magazine, which is billed as the benchmark of male attractiveness and desirability and typically bestowed upon celebrities. In all honesty, it's totally a PR tool celebrities can pay a lot of money for to be included in the process or selected for the title. The list of Sexiest Men is pretty standard over the years but there have been some, cough, aberrations that probably puts the credibility of this award into question. I mean really, Adam Levine? BLAKE mf'in SHELTON?! He wasn't even sexy on the cover of this issue let alone in life! Yes, it's an emotional topic for me. When Idris Elba is included in the same list of sexy as BLAKE SHELTON (again, disbelief), there is a serious problem in the scientific method somewhere.
But I digress. Because I'm actually quite pleased with this year's Sexiest Man Alive winner -- none other than theeeeeee Michael B. Jordan himself! Honestly, this is the beginning to us putting the world back in order. In fact, I think People should create a separate category altogether and crown MBJ the Sexiest Human Alive. Because again, someone lied to Blake Shelton and told him he had the qualifications, the pedigree, the gall to be christened the Sexiest Man Alive in 2017 and now we're all living through a plague.
MBJ on the other hand... just perfect. I've been a fan since he starred as Vince Howard on the best television show ever created, Friday Night Lights and have enjoyed many of his on-screen performances ever since. In fact, he was my favorite part of Black Panther, to be honest. I think he is extremely talented and picks a lot of good projects to be involved with, though I would love to see him in a really well-written rom-com next. Hollywood: make it happen!