Patronizing History: Rise of the Rocket Girls

I’m currently reading Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt, the #wlclub pick for May. I wrote this post for the #wlclub google group and decided to store it here as well because it’s about a thousand words on how to patronize female historical subjects and exploring how/why that may happen.

Continue reading Patronizing History: Rise of the Rocket Girls

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desk lunch – 2015-10-29

Brought to you this week by the new One Direction song, Perfect, and its beautifully strange music video. Wait, by strange I don’t mean weird, I mean completely perfect in embracing this very particular adult life that only appears in romcoms as the Goofus to the Gallant happy ending?? Like: right here right now this is all I can give and if that’s all you want then that’s great and if it’s not well then I’ll be here kicking soccer balls and killing time between interviews and living my life instead of having sex with you. Also I love that it responds to Taylor Swift’s Style, of all songs.

In like, actual news, Atlas and Alice has just released their spring/fall issue 4 and it’s BEAUTIFUL. My flash fiction, Me and Bradley Cooper and the True Dimensions of a Love Triangle, appears in this issue and I’m so glad to be in such good company.

This comprehensive arrogance is captured in one of Thoreau’s most famous lines: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” It is a mystery to me how a claim so simultaneously insufferable and absurd ever entered the canon of popular quotations. Had Thoreau broadened it to include himself, it would be less obnoxious; had he broadened it to include everyone (à la Sartre), it would be more defensible. As it stands, however, Thoreau’s declaration is at once off-putting and empirically dubious. By what method, one wonders, could a man so disinclined to get to know other people substantiate an allegation about the majority of humanity?

Kathryn Schulz went after Thoreau and his legacy and I WEEP that it has taken this long. On the upside, it’s very long and detailed and persuasive as hell, so it was well worth waiting my entire life.

Public Domain Review doing that amazing Public Domain work by presenting us with illustrations of comets from throughout history, throughout the world. Did you know Halley’s Comet is on the Bayeaux Tapestry?? COMETS ARE AWESOME.
And this, argues Illouz, is precisely why 21st-century love still hurts. First, we lack the legitimacy of those love-torn duelists and suicides of the previous centuries. They at least enjoyed social recognition based on the general understanding of love as a mad, inexplicable force that not even the strongest minds can resist. Nowadays, yearning for a specific pair of eyes (or legs, for that matter) is no longer a valid occupation, and so one’s love pangs are exacerbated by the consciousness of one’s social and psychological inadequacy. From the perspective of the Regime of Choice, the heart-broken Emmas, Werthers and Annas of the 19th century are not simply inept lovers – they are psychologically illiterate, if not evolutionarily passé.

I also blogged about this Aeon article briefly for The Rumpus. It does such an excellent job exploring romantic love in other cultures, specifically in Russia where so much of how romance is portrayed/perceived still comes out of Tolstoy and the 19th century. I would read a book-length version of this, really.

Does it matter that she always seems to be thinking and laughing and envisioning internally, but carries herself like the protagonist of a book we’re all just living in? The answer to that depends on whether or not you think that being a tough-girl is complicated and important, or not. I think it is, and never more so than now.

Full Stop published this piece on performances of gender with HarperCollins republishing Eileen Myles’s Chelsea Girls. (Which I am STILL WAITING to read because the Free Library of Philadelphia only has ONE COPY.)


desk lunch – 2015-08-27

Brought to you this week by books. James Nestor’s nonfiction book on freediving and the ocean took longer to read than I expected, but then I devoured Nora Ephron’s Heartburn literally Saturday into Sunday. There’s a movie based on Heartburn, but it’s one of those books that is such a book that I can’t bring myself to watch it right now. Also, Meryl Streep as Nora Ephron and Jack Nicholson as Carl Bernstein? Let’s… not. (This has nothing to do with imagining the wrong actor from All the President’s Men as Carl Bernstein throughout the entire novel. Nope. Totally unrelated.)

Now I’m on Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, and with that I will have finished all of Jane Austen! Now that I’m reading it, I’m glad I wasn’t in a rush to get through with Northanger Abbey– it’s so much more ironic and absurd than every other Austen, starting with the author’s note and sinking all the way through into every sentence. I don’t want it to end.


One of the more subtle underlying issues with the rise of Uber is the company’s slow siphoning of the political will to fix existing—or build new—public transit infrastructure in major cities…. As the wealthy—and, as the prices of Uber and Lyft fall, the slightly less so—essentially remove themselves from the problems of existing mass transit infrastructure with Uber and other services, the urgency to improve or add to it diminishes. The people left riding public transit become, increasingly, the ones with little or no political weight to demand improvements to the system.

I chose a particularly cynical quote to excerpt from this piece on the future of Uber/the privatization of the public transport infrastructure, and I made that choice because this is where Uber hits me, right now, in 2015. Fortunately, Philadelphia’s cab system has an app that’s just as convenient as Uber, and it’s still providing regular maintenance to its public transit system, but for how long? That’s really what this piece on The Awl gets at: if Uber is the future of public transit in urban areas, what will it look like in the very near future as public transit collapses but Uber still isn’t any more affordable for those who can only afford public transit?


There’s always been a link between privilege and mobility within the arts. If you are an artist, you are lucky if you can afford the time to work on your craft, and even luckier if you can afford the supplies required of your craft, and even luckier still if you are able to afford to respond to calls for conferences, residencies, and colonies.

This excellent essay from The Rumpus on the cost (financially, day-job-professionally, personally) of attending writers’ residencies. It articulates each of the thousand human complications that ensure I’ve never applied for a residency: what would happen to my job in the meantime? My apartment? My friends? Where would I get the money to pay for it? For expenses there? As prestigious as something like Bread Loaf has always sounded, the odds of being in the 5% who qualify for financial aid has never seemed worth the effort of applying.


It’s been a week and 26 million views, but seriously: have you watched One Direction’s video for Drag Me Down? It’s not news that the song itself is a jam and a half, but when the video premiered last Friday, I was shrieking way more intensely about the gratuitous use of NASA all over the place.

Best of all, this wasn’t a one-way arrangement! Official NASA twitter seemed to have tons of fun promoting their toys and the video all morning. I adored our anthropomorphized space program enough to Storify the moment.


desk lunch – 2015-07-16

Brought to you this week by SPACE i love space.

with a still, restrained, almost annoyed sigh, what voice in what 
wilderness, minutest cricket, most unworthy flower I will never be tired — I will never be noisy I will be your best little girl — 
nobody else will see me, but you — but that is enough — limitlessness, wilt thou say,

ah, ladies, good night, good night, good night ladies —
and who therefore know the biology of the soft matter and the cluster of creation in its salty stellar lonely archive is matched by the sweet violence of thought,
who transubstantiated across the desert with both of them finally under the deep clear her blonde beauty and the celestial betrayals arrayed stellar, Andromeda chained naked to a rock, the Pleiades shedding to doves to stars,

The reinterpretation of Ginsberg’s “Howl” that I absolutely wanted forever and ever.

As long as scholars think of consciousness as a magic essence floating inside the brain, it won’t be very interesting to engineers. But if it’s a crucial set of information, a kind of map that allows the brain to function correctly, then engineers may want to know about it. And that brings us back to artificial intelligence. Gone are the days of waiting for computers to get so complicated that they spontaneously become conscious. And gone are the days of dismissing consciousness as an airy-fairy essence that would bring no obvious practical benefit to a computer anyway. Suddenly it becomes an incredibly useful tool for the machine.

I sent this to my brother. Him: “Ok but has someone invented the app that will care about this for me?” THANKS BRO.

Really, though, I fell into this headfirst, start to finish, because that concept of the singularity always bothered me- that there was no solution to making machines and software self-aware, just that if we made them fast enough, it would happen, and that sounds too much like irrationality and magic. The piece from Aeon argues that creating an artificial consciousness means treating consciousness not as a spark lit only within humans, but as a property of our supercomputing brains’ processors that allows us to filter and focus in a way that we’re just barely getting computers to do.

Next pointless research excursion: how did people describe the human brain before computers?


Remember analogue photography? What a nightmare.


Speaking of technology, because it’s that kind of week: PLUTO.

Emily Lakadawalla has written and tweeted about everything going on with Pluto and New Horizons this week. I’ve read so much of her work this week that when I finally saw her at the NASA press conference livestream SPEAK WITH HER HUMAN VOICE AND ASK A QUESTION I got weirdly emotional like meeting an internet friend for the first time. Anyway. Highlights:

Next press conference with the first lossless images will be 1PM EST Friday! SCREAMING.


desk lunch – 2015-06-18

Brought to you this week by #RAPTORSQUAD and DINOSAURS. I’ve spent the week diversifying my interests but it’s so hard. It’s so hard. 

#CharlestonShooting


Historian B.G. Corbin points out that an early form of astronomical photography became available during the time when [Étienne Léopold] Trouvelot was working, but that the artist rejected the idea of switching media, arguing that “the camera could not replace the human eye” when it came to capturing the subtleties of structure and configuration.

I particularly like the Jupiter drawing because it captures the depth of the cloud cover- it’s something we see in our own clouds every day, but an element obviously lacking in our actual probe photos.

On Earth, humans long ago became the global force that decides these strange creatures’ fates, despite the fact that we barely think about them and, in many cases, only recently discovered their existence. The same will be true for any nearby planet. We are about to export the best and worst of the Anthropocene to the rest of our solar system, so we better figure out what our responsibilities will be when we get there.

NERD KLAXON: I include this because it goes into great, great detail (ok, only 3200 words of detail) the simple fact that probes on another surface, a probe with our dirt and our elements and our microbes, would constitute as colonization. It would be the beginning of turning another world into our own- or, worst case scenario, ruining it because their ecosystems are incompatible. In conclusion, I look forward to The Martian and blissfully discussing every single thing that can go wrong in space exploration for the next 2-3 years. At least. This is like an opening act.


POETRY RECS! 

BOAAT Press has done a beautiful thing and put the PDFs of their 2015 poetry chapbook contest winner (and runners up, I think?) up on their website for free. They only ask that you donate what you like. The winning chapbook, Call It a Premonition: Translations from the Voynich Manuscript by Jess Feldman, captures this gorgeous moody and sulky modern-medieval world, particularly in the title poem at the close of the book:

In a distant future
I look like a boy only
still a girl but in slacks okay
I am moving my lacquered
fingers so text materializes
across a framed fluid tapestry
without seams
Blues for a Red Planet by T.A.Noonan at Open Letters Monthly
But who shall dwell in these worlds, asks Kepler,
if they be inhabited? Not my girls in double-
sided tape. They will wait as God has waited
six thousand years for an observer.
At the End#finalpoem from Jimin Han
We never made it to the coast.
I never saw you.
Rivers changed course without warning
or did we have warning?
Maybe we ignored the warning.

ENCLAVE, Entropy Mag’s community space, is doing something interesting with #finalpoem: publishing every submission, all of which center on the last poem a writer would offer if the world was ending next week. You can submit here.


desk lunch – 2015-06-11

Brought to you this week by several days of being outside and seeing people while also rounding up all the cats in Neko Atsume. (It’s free to download, but it will cost you minutes of your life every day, and you will seriously consider the economics of this planet of stray cats, and it will all make perfect sense.) And then Alexander wept, etc. Also!! Keep an eye on the blog at The Rumpus, as I’ll occasionally contribute more literary-minded links over there.

RIP Christopher Lee and all the great old dudes 2015 has claimed this year.


In case you couldn’t tell from my brief journey into the world of dinosaur romance: I love Jurassic Park. I look forward to Jurassic World this week because big screen dinosaur spectacles are so few and far between!! So prime yourself with this wonderfully earnest movie-and-book-canon love letter to Ian Malcolm.

Also, here’s my Jurassic World dream cameo: it’s during this scene full of chaos in the streets of the park, etc. Run, scream, run, scream: CUT TO A SIDEWALK CAFE WHERE DR. IAN MALCOLM SITS AT AN UNDISTURBED TABLE, SIPPING AN ESPRESSO, LAUGHING TO HIMSELF. I can’t ask for the filmmakers to dedicate five or ten or maybe 30 minutes of a film to Jeff Goldblum laughing to himself (remixed), but I can dream.


But despite our toxic relationship and his abusive nature, I pen this letter under a cloak of anonymity because my father, from what I have recently learned, is queer but not proud. And by no means is he out.

O’Rei, the author, draws a striking line between deferment and displacement- it’s a law of physics, that for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction, and displacement will be the other side of deferment. Something deferred can fester or explode, but much more likely it’ll shift its power and weight in some other direction, a sustained force replenished as long as (in this case) there’s desire deferred to fuel it.


Like all such testaments, the Embroidery is both repository and maker of memory: source of the facts we resolve into histories, participant in the worlds that designed it and inherited it, tribute to and bearer of war.

IT’S A #LONGREAD. SAVE THIS TO POCKET. Alison Kinney writes a richly researched essay on war memorials, starting with the Bayeux Tapestry (EMBROIDERY). I read so much history and read more than my share of war narratives, and that’s just it: wars are often presented as narratives that have to be told and retold, from as many different angles as possible, the better to understand this chaotic rupture of life and the social order. It’s interesting to consider the temporality of war memorials, the way they don’t evolve as our stories or understanding of a war or battle does. That’s the surface fact of a memorial, but Kinney brings this into a new light: that these memorials capture a raw feeling of war that we, the survivors and inheritors, can’t narrativize out of the way.

We launch our memorials, as time capsules—ravens or doves—or bombs—into unknown futures, bearing our faults and stories, not knowing which will crumble or rot, be swallowed by weeds, mounted in museums, or blasted. We can’t predict whether, freshly restored, they’ll urge future soldiers to kill, or mourn another war intended to end all wars.

Remember NASA’s Dawn Mission, whose trajectory and bright spots I babbled about almost exactly two months ago? GUESS WHAT. THERE’S PHOTOS OF CERES. In fact, there are enough photos of dwarf planet Ceres for NASA to create this video showing us its topography. FULL SCREEN. VOLUME UP. The star field was added after the fact to provide visual relief from a dark background and the illusion of distance, don’t worry about it, ok? Here’s the full post from NASA and the twitter link to the video for your retweeting pleasure.


It’s real.

desk lunch – 2015-05-28

Brought to you this week by a brain that doesn’t quite want to make words work. I can’t blame the heat because it was 90 degrees in Philadelphia today, at the end of May; that can only mean July and August will make this place seem like the surface of the sun, but humid, because topography is cruel.


And the further we get into the cinematic superhero era — now almost 15 years long — the more explicit these films get about both their real-world impetus and about the way America responded to that tragedy.

These narratives mostly suggest that it’s a perilous thing to be a girl, that there are only two ways for girlhood to end: joyfully and with procreative marriage, or tragically in painful death. But that dyad isn’t any more real than the poison apple or the dwarves with the Protestant work ethic.

Here are two really different essays that, in their own ways, deal with admitting difficult truths to ourselves. Those truths, specifically:

  1. superhero movies have grown from cultural/geopolitical power fantasies with a crumb of reality at their center to overworked toddlers kicking over skyscrapers when things don’t go their way and mayyyyyybe they’ve outlived their usefulness and entertainment;
  2. you are not responsible for your objectification, for others diminishing you to something less than a thinking, feeling, breathing human being.

They work for me, anyway.


I love space. It thrills me and scares me because the reality of space is so much more than my imagination could ever conceive. Last month, the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia opened up their observatory during a Science After Hours event. I stood on their roof in the shockingly cold April night for about 45 minutes, waiting for my turn to step up to a telescope and look at Jupiter for about 15 seconds. The largest planet in our solar system was 400 million miles away, but the telescope provided enough detail to differentiate its layers of atmosphere and count three of its moons passing in front it. Science put all that right in my face and I couldn’t have been happier to know that this isn’t all there is. It’s enough to know that there’s more to existence than what happens on Earth.

This Tuesday, May 26, marked what would have been Sally Ride’s 64th birthday. As a geeky kid who loved space, I loved the annual surprise of a new science textbook and finding the Sally Ride sidebar that discussed her achievements as an astronaut and scientist. Yet as a kid, what stuck with me about Sally Ride was that she was the first woman I saw in a book referred to by her title: Dr. Ride. There was no wondering if she was Miss or Ms. or Mrs. depending on her age and marital status. For the first time in my life, I saw written in a book that there was a woman you could call just Dr. Ride, thank you. Even now, that tiny thing means a lot: a literal particle of gender nonconformity at an age when I didn’t know that was what I wanted so much; a signal as loud as an airhorn that you could achieve something and have it change the way you were addressed and known in the world.

Honestly, this was brought on because Google marked the occasion with a series of animated doodles on their homepage. The full doodle page also includes a post from Dr. Ride’s partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy, on her career and the Sally Ride Science legacy. Autostraddle reposted their wonderfully detailed 2012 obituary.

And this review of Lynn Sherr’s 2014 biography on Dr. Ride closes with a line from the book that I can’t forget: “Being first was fine but she didn’t want to be the only one.”


desk lunch – 2015-04-09

Brought to you during a binge-watch of Madam Secretary. If The Good Wife was CBS’s first arrow into my Smaug armor, this show is Bard’s arrow. I will fall into the lake at Esgaroth, clawing helplessly at the dream of Téa Leoni and Tim Daly’s sweaters and blazers collection.

The obvious thing that has happened is that the technology has become more central in the students’ experience…. These classroom technologies become more conspicuous as things that separate the students from the class and what I suspect they understand as the “real” me.

It still shocks and humbles me to see how deeply we feel our connection with technology. We’re long past taking the Office Space printer to a field with baseball bats. When a site or drive crashes at the worst possible time, when something blows up on Twitter without us, when we just can’t parse the tech in front of us, it hits us where we breathe. I appreciate the piece above, written by a grad student teaching his composition classes online, on the difficulties that his students encounter as they learn solely through an online presence. A simplified workflow doesn’t offer a substitute for vision, intention, and communication. It’s something I should have etched into the back of my hand so I don’t forget.

The temptation I’ve wrestled with is to simply dismiss this silly thing, New Yorker or no, as the sad ravings of a man trying to escape his guilt-ridden Protestant Puritan heritage and justify his consumerist lifestyle. But I can’t. It’s not about defending Audubon’s honor against this weird ad hominem assault—or not primarily that, anyway. It’s about defending an idea against the false dichotomy Franzen tries to advance in his essay.

No, you didn’t ask and no, I’m not over the Audubon Society’s beef with Jonathan Franzen over ethics in avian journalism. I read this from a fainting couch with my phone in one hand and smelling salts in the other. I hope, for Franzen’s sake, someone will bind this scathing takedown from the Audubon Society in a life-sized illustrated folio, with birds of America shrieking throughout AND ANOTHER THING.

The character of Cromwell as drawn by Mantel fascinates me because he does nothing without a purpose, and yet it’s not clear what drives him. He accumulates wealth, but gives much of it away, so greed  isn’t his motive. He cultivates safe spaces for Protestant religious practice but retains a lifelong loyalty to a Catholic cardinal. He rises in court and in authority, but doesn’t get drunk on power; his inner monologue reveals a man who never believes he is completely safe.

Wolf Hall finally arrived on PBS this past Sunday. Here Sara covers a lot of what I appreciated about Mantel’s books and the miniseries. Mostly, I love Wolf Hall because it’s so weird compared to every other version we’ve seen of the story of Henry VIII. Sex exists in whispers and contracts; everyone hustles for a spot in the room with Henry, the room where everything happens but no one can reveal the cost and effort it took to get there. Wolf Hall captures this temporality so often absent from historical fiction: no one knows they’re in a story, no one knows there will be one accepted version of how their lives shook out. Cromwell’s story is about the story, the steps taken to unfold and shape a life. Who cares about how it ends when everyone dies anyway?

NASA’s Dawn Mission twitter account linked to their video animating the planned trajectory of the craft around Ceres, a dwarf planet in the asteroid belt. It came up again after more than a month without an update about those bright spots on Ceres’s surface, and the animation shows that Dawn still hasn’t made it into the close approach phase of its journey yet. I just want to note for the record that we (as a species!!) regularly shoot robots into space and MAKE THEM OUR EYES. There’s a robot on a comet, there are robots on and around Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Pluto, and a robot has left our star system for interstellar space. PEOPLE WALKED ON OUR MOON’S FACE.

Look: just because Bronotsaurus can rejoin the land of valid dinosaur taxonomy does not mean that Pluto gets to be a planet again. Have scientists re-evaluated fossil records and revised their 25-year-old conclusions? Yes! Has Pluto gained the mass necessary to meet the IAU’s standards for planet status? No! Did the IAU cave a little and designate objects in Pluto’s neighborhood PLUTOIDS to appease people? Yeah, like seven years ago. When it comes to science, these developments are a feature, not a bug.