Outside Reading — Six from 2022

Saturdays are when I use my little corner of the digital world to excitedly redirect eyes to the recent writing of others. As the year comes to a close, I’ll offer encore hyperlinks to the following six pieces, presented more or less at random. Each of them floored me and lingered in the memory. Usually, I offer my annotations and opining, but today I’ll simply pull a passage to present as evidence of the excellence.

Her Name Was Shirley by Dr. Reniqua Allen-Lamphere

“As I read this, I was frustrated, both at the editors inability to see how dramatically Allie’s life dream changed because of the story they published, but also at Allie for failing to find work—and Shirley for not getting straight A’s. I admit, my latter qualm was probably unfair. As white editors living in the North, they just didn’t quite get Allie’s sacrifice and how hard it had been for her to even act on her initial dream, how much it had meant for a Black woman to become a teacher, when everything around her told her she was less than. And then to have it snatched away? I could understand why she was so devastated and her life so destroyed. At the same time while I understood Allie Lee’s plight in a Jim Crow world, I continuously wanted her to finally catch a break, to find success in another field or for Shirley to have the perfect report card. But those kind of wishes are often the territory of fairytales, or some Black respectability fantasy, distant from the reality of inequality, poverty, white supremacy and racism. So, I pushed my own questions aside and kept reading.”

Reality Bit, but She Bit Back. by Jason Zinoman

“Garofalo’s stand-up always made apathy and boredom look cool, glamorous and, most important, sensible. About boomers, she joked: “They got married and worked hard so their kids didn’t have to, and guess what, we don’t.” There’s a performance in this, of course, since she has always worked hard, but the hustle and grind has never been her brand, to use a word she probably wouldn’t.”

I Am Not Proof of the American Dream by Tara Westover

“A Pell Grant was my first taste of financial security. Now even a full grant would be wholly inadequate, because of the rising costs of tuition and housing. When the program was established 50 years ago, the largest grant covered 79 percent of the costs to attend a four-year public college. Today it covers just 29 percent. It’s not enough. What that grant offered me — security, peace of mind, a space in which to consider, for the first time, what sort of life I wanted — it no longer offers.”

In Defense of Shame by Julia Claire

“Like most cultural ills plaguing us today, I am ready to pin this one on Ronald Reagan. The atomization of American society and the disintegration of the social contract in the public consciousness has led to a widespread acceptance that we don’t owe each other anything. Perhaps this partly laid the foundation for the prison of un-self-aware sanctimoniousness we find ourselves in today. Proclaiming to be ashamed of nothing is its own form of self-deception. In fact, the denial of shame within oneself becomes its own kind of emotional suppression that brings us full-circle to precisely what the anti-shame movement was trying to subvert.”

Friday night fish frys define Wisconsin. What happens when climate change adjusts the menu? by John McCracken

“Justin Kohlhagen, operating manager of VFW Memorial Post 9156 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, stays tried and true to local fish as much as he can. The VFW, found just around the corner from a semi-pro baseball field and across the street from a Lutheran cemetery, has hosted a booming Friday night fish fry for the last nine years under his watch. Born and raised in Sheboygan, a city nicknamed the Malibu of the Midwest and known for freshwater recreation, Kohlhagen spent his childhood fishing perch with his family along Lake Michigan shores.”

I Know What It’s Like to Be a Florida Teen Who Can’t Say Gay. I Was One by Kristen Arnett

“As an adult, I can see that the smothering of the queerness that lived inside me led to long, tumultuous years of depression and misery. So much of that overwhelming despair could have been abated by the simple act of voicing the unsaid thing. All those times I cried myself sick and prayed for death, I needed the words. Whenever I sliced at my skin, or when I pulled the hair from my head in order to feel something other than the self-loathing of my secret burden, I needed that frustratingly inaccessible language. If only I were allowed a sentence. Even a word. If I could tell someone, anyone, without fear of repercussion, then I’d have found relief. I’m gay, I would have said. And the immediate follow-up: I’m gay and I’m scared.”

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