Welcome (back) to Discovery—the Celebration link roundup—where we celebrate great writing, explore new ideas, keep abreast of newsy items, continuously reframe our understanding of the world, and also (ahem) laugh at memes.
Here we go!
Admittedly, I am virtually a nobody on this platform. But since everyone and their mom has a substack, there are lots of Somebodies writing smart stuff on here. Here’s some substackers’ writing I’ve enjoyed recently.
Jill Filipovic on our shared existential crisis: “Covid has forced some hard questions, chief among them: What am I doing with my life, and why?”
Talia Lavin on fear and pregnancy in the age of Covid: “In spaces where pregnant women seek fellowship online, panic, frustration, and the predatory nature of anti-vaccine rhetoric, with its sowing of insidious doubt, are particularly stark.”
Kate McKean on writing: “I get so worked up about how it’s going to feel (i.e. bad and hard) that I don’t do it and things don’t get done, which makes me feel bad, and the cycle continues. Fun!” Read it—it’s not just complaining (a writerly pastime!), she gives advice for overcoming the torpor of procrastination too.
Summer Brennan’s ‘Essay Camp’ series offers five days of thoughtful writing prompts and reading assignments. The posts are from August but all the prompts and posts are evergreen: “Write one sentence. Write the first true thing that comes. This can be anything: an opinion, an observation, a memory, the beginning of a story, a complaint. Then write the next sentence. And the next.”
From The Guardian—The latest MLM (multilevel marketing scam) is life coaching: “Coaching is an entirely unregulated industry – there are no oversight boards, no standard curricula, no codes of ethics; if I wanted to hang out my shingle as a life coach tomorrow, no one would stop me.”
From The Cut—Simone Biles Chose Herself: “Every generation of Black women releases a generation of curses as it borrows from the lessons of the past and shapes the possibilities of the future.”
From The Washington Post—Understanding ‘Pandemic Flux Syndrome’: “In short, people are awash with conflicting feelings as they grapple with the swings and mixed signals of threats, shifting public health policies and uncertain social behavior.”
From Roxane Gay’s ‘Work Friend’ column in The New York Times—You Are Not Where You Work: “There are many problems with capitalism but foremost, for many people, are the ways in which we must compromise ourselves to earn a living . . . I urge you to decouple your self-worth and contributions to humanity from your employment.”
From Vox—The Death of the Job: “What if paid work were no longer the centerpiece of American life?”
From The New Republic—How to Spot a Cult: “Language is the primary means by which any group, and not just a cult, establishes a sense of shared purpose and identity. Specialized terminology allows adherents to feel they have unique access to something.”
From LiberalCurrents—Adam Gurri’s well-reasoned rebuttal to Anne Applebaum’s recent-ish article in The Atlantic, ‘The New Puritans’): “Like all essays of this kind, she swiftly moves to the claim that Puritan-style social shunning is very much in vogue today—a claim she fails to back in any meaningful way with evidence. . . .It is quite possible that Applebaum’s social circle really is under digital siege, but the rest of the country is not. Usually, anything that can be done to the powerful is done to the weak, with greater frequency and intensity.”
Not news but still—revisit Toni Morrison’s 1993 interview in The Paris Review: “When I teach creative writing, I always speak about how you have to learn how to read your work; I don’t mean enjoy it because you wrote it. I mean, go away from it, and read it as though it is the first time you’ve ever seen it. Critique it that way. Don’t get all involved in your thrilling sentences and all that . . .”
Enter the Discourse Dungeon (at Your Own Risk)
Yes, it’s a dungeon because the Discourse elicits feelings that are dark and all-encompassing and we (OK, I) feel like we’re buried under it in a subterranean mind-prison that is inescapable, frames our entire world, and is crushing our will to live and/or think for ourselves. On discourse days, when a controversy captures the popular imagination, the cacophony of tweets and takes from blue checkmarked twitter folk can crescendo to a dizzying fever pitch, drowning out everything else on the internet. Before I can formulate my own opinion on the news of the day, the well has been poisoned by the thousands of people who got there first and I begin to wonder whether any of my thoughts about the world are truly autonomous or self-formed. It is exhausting to be so relentlessly influenced, y’know what I mean? (We can’t go on, we’ll go on.)
Last week in the dungeon—(mostly) everyone on twitter got gobbled alive by the Bad Art Friend discourse. I won’t recap the story that got it all started (you can read the original NYT piece that ate our brains here) but I will tell you it involves kidney donation, plagiarism, writer’s cliques, white saviorism, lawsuits, and subpoenas for grexts (group texts). If you’re not on twitter, and/or you weren’t sucked in, bless you. Proceed with your day and just skip the rest of this section. PLEASE, save yourself from the brain-parasite of this discourse! However, if you were sucked into the Dorland v. Larson imbroglio, there are, of course, some Takes™ that might interest you.
Michael Hobbes, like many of us, has determined that both parties were wrong, but concludes they weren’t equally wrong at the same time: One was more wrong initially (Larson) while one became more wrong in the second half of the conflict (Dorland). Decide for yourself: https://rottenindenmark.org/2021/10/10/identifying-the-bad-art-friend-is-easy/ Yes, there are actual court documents in this one. Spicy.
Then, Magdi Semrau, writing in Slate foregoes wading through the interpersonal dynamics and emotional drama of the discourse itself, and simply pleads with us to both a) consider donating a kidney and b) tell the world about it because doing so is the clearest avenue to getting others to donate too: https://slate.com/technology/2021/10/bad-art-friend-kidney-crisis-donation-altruism.html
Personally, the conduct of both women in the Bad Art Friend saga made me feel sad and gross but I found Dorland’s behavior to be slightly more unhinged, until I read this twitter thread which made me question my perception of events:
Spooky N. Gore @moorehnYou, an intellectual: Dorland's decision to pitch a story about herself to the NYT was one of the biggest self-owns ever. Me, casually: Did you see that Larson's decision to strike first with a lawsuit is the reason her group chats became public? https://t.co/P1MogzSkqy https://t.co/plw7ENXGuf
Dan Nguyen (everyone you love decomposing to bones @dancowBut anyway, the Facebook stuff is moot. Dawn believed Sonya's lie. Later she found the truth — was hurt enough to quietly unfriend Sonya — and yet for TWO YEARS didn't bring it up. How is Dawn "obsessed"? She only went ballistic when she finally saw how much plagiarism there was https://t.co/NBE2MZlT1e
Still, while I tend to reject a “both sides are wrong” conclusion to most conflicts because that’s usually tepid and incomplete—in this case, even with a deeper dive into the conflict, a “both sides” summation seems like it might just be the right place to end up.
Feels like we can leave it here —
Finally, some tweets—
That’s all the discovering for this edition! Thanks for reading. Hope to be back in your inbox soon.