Monthly Archives: January 2017

Link Party: 1/23-1/27

Paper monsteras.

Paper monsteras.

This was a really, really, really tough week on many levels. I hope that you’re taking care of yourself and working towards finding your own sense of balance. Do not feel guilty about taking breaks to do the things you enjoy. “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

Here’s what I read this week:

1. The extraordinary stories of the White House mailroom staff, Obama’s 10 letters a day and the people who wrote them.

2. This is what it’s like to come to the United States as a refugee.

— Before you get to the rest of the links, it’s imperative you read the first two. They are required reading. —

3. What Roxane Gay is reading.

4. The story of David Bowie’s secret final project.

5. “Self-care” is not the same as “treating yourself.”

And a bonus: How to begin again.

Have a great week. I believe in you.


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Link Party: 1/16-1/20

Participating in the Los Angeles Women’s March on Washington with 750,000 people and millions more around the world was an incredible experience that I will never forget. I am proud that I exercised my civic duty in support of protecting basic human rights for all. Today is the first day of the next four years, and it’s time to get to work.

Here’s what I read this week:

1. Buying feminist merchandise is not political action.

2. President Obama‘s memorable parting words.

3. Malia and Sasha Obama‘s post-White House lives.

4. We need to protect the street vendors of Los Angeles.

5. Inside the weird, industry-shaking world of Donald Glover.

And a bonus: The poem “Interview,” by Dorothy Parker:

The ladies men admire, I’ve heard,
Would shudder at a wicked word.
Their candle gives a single light;
They’d rather stay at home at night.
They do not keep awake till three,
Nor read erotic poetry.
They never sanction the impure,
Nor recognize an overture.
They shrink from powders and from paints …
So far, I’ve had no complaints.
Have a great week.

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Gold Star for the Internet: Gustavo Dudamel on YouTube

It’s kinda weird to say in 2017 that I have a favorite conductor, but I have a favorite conductor. His name is Gustavo Dudamel, and he’s the conductor for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. If you live in Los Angeles, you’ve probably heard of him or seen his photo on lightpole banners around the city. I’ve seen him at the Hollywood Bowl, and next week I’m going to go see him conduct Schoenberg and Mozart at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

I’m looking forward to it a lot, and not just because I get to cross off one of my L.A. to-do list and not just because I get to go with my grandma. Once I started college, I got more and more interested in learning about classical music appreciation, and I found that I really love that classical music tells stories without needing words.

If you’re wondering what a conductor does, the two main things they do are providing an interpretation of the music (believe it or not, there’s a lot of variation in different performances of the same piece) and leading the orchestra in both tempo and organization. There’s a lot I love about Dudamel, but to sum it up I find his charismatic, youthful and kinetic interpretations enthrall me. Plus, the sheer talents of the L.A. Philharmonic or the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela are both visual and aural treats. I feel extremely lucky that I have the chance to experience the art while it’s unfolding in front of us, and that as a culture we’ve preserved classical music. Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s not good or inspiring.

Whenever I need a creative boost, I always watch and listen to Gustavo Dudamel videos on YouTube. I have a few favorites that I want to share with you, and I have Opinions on all of them.

Dvořák’s “Symphony No. 9, 4th movement.”

Okay, so there are several things I really love about this video — which is just a tiny section from the Czech composer’s “From The New World” symphony performed for Pope Benedict XVI’s 80th birthday — that comes up in some of the first Dudamel hits on YouTube. First, this is a beautiful piece of music that I really enjoy listening to and without YouTube I never would have found it. It’s happy and sad and brave and anxious all at the same time.

Secondly, I love that you can tell Dudamel is so into it, and I greatly appreciate that — he channels the performance and becomes the physical embodiment of the piece. (My favorite moment is at 10:35. My heart drops.) Watching him is as emotional of an experience as listening to the music is, because you can tell that this man believes in the power of classical music with all of his being. Thirdly, the fact that after the piece is over that Dudamel goes and commends the members of the orchestra is a testament to his professionalism and his humility. And last but not least, I love that in the few frames you see him in, the pope seems so disinterested that it makes you want to laugh. Lemme just say — Francis would never.


Marquez’s “Danzón No. 2.”

Cuban, Mexican and other Latin-American contemporary music is supremely, supremely underrated in the corners of the mainstream music world I frequent, and I need to listen to more of it. I love this particular arrangement so much that I actually ripped the audio from this YouTube video and put it in my iTunes so that I could listen to it on my phone in the car and at work. Arturo Marquez is actually a contemporary composer from Mexico, and he premiered this piece in 1994. “Danzón No. 2” actually became popular because Dudamel included it on the programme for the 2007 Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela world tour. A recording performed by that group is what you’re watching here.

The fact that this piece is almost as old as me is incredible, because it defies the notion that good and entertaining classical music has to have centuries-old timestamps. It makes you want to get up and dance, or at the very least move your shoulders to the beat while watching it in bed (which is what I’m doing as I write this.) In the frames where you can see Dudamel, watch his hands — they’re mesmerizing. He is as youthful as his musicians and the piece itself, which elevates the entire performance.

Gershwin’s “An American in Paris.”

The Wikipedia page for the orchestral music says that George Gershwin wrote “An American in Paris” as a “symphonic poem.” That phrase is my new favorite two-word combo in the English language, because that’s so apt for what this is. Gershwin is one of my favorite composers because his music tells intricate stories without words, and it often leaves me feeling more buoyant. I often wonder what American music would look and sound like if we had his talent and creativity for much longer than we did. The orchestral composition came way before the movie, but if you haven’t seen An American in Paris you should slot that into your weekend plans. It’s very good, and the fact that they made the movie in 1951 is amazing.

Anyway, if you look up Gershwin’s music you’ll find that Leonard Bernstein’s recordings are considered the end-all, be-all, and I’m sure it was phenomenal to hear them conducted in-person. But I like Dudamel’s better, because I think it sounds fresher. Compare the two and tell me what you think.

Bernstein’s “Mambo” and Pérez-Prado’s “Mambos.”

I saved the best for last. I’m not 100 percent sure on what specific mambos this video showcases, but I know it’s both Dámaso Pérez Prado and Bernstein’s composition for West Side Story.

My favorite, favorite, favorite thing about this video is that the overall enthusiasm and joy of this music — from Dudamel, the orchestra and the audience — is infectious even on the other side of the computer screen. His smile when the musicians get up out of their chairs and the standing ovation from the crowd makes me believe that the world is beautiful and good and pure. Bookmark this video — and all the others, while you’re at it — for when you need a pick-me-up. You can thank me later.

Do you love Dudamel too, or have other similar music videos to share? Leave effusive praise + links in the comments.


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Link Party: 1/9-1/13

"The Man Who Fell to Earth," at photo l.a.

“The Man Who Fell to Earth,” at photo l.a.

Here’s what I read this week:

1. This article about abortion and the future of women’s health in America is extremely important reading.

2. Solange, interviewed by Beyoncé.

3. Diet Coke is not killing you.

4. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the Trump administration.

5. Ryan Gosling is a man after his time.

And a bonus: Terry Gross on the Longform podcast.

Take care of yourself.

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Link Party: 1/2-1/6

The truest of the true facts.

The truest of the true facts.

Here’s what I’ve read lately:

1. The fiction of Google Maps.

2. The size and weirdness of the Kardashian empire.

3. The restaurant industry bubble that’s about to burst.

4. Ada Harris, mother of the hair straightener.

5. Looking for answers in India after a seeker disappears and his guide commits suicide.

And a bonus: Bon Iver, live in concert.

Have a wonderful week.

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Think Tank: My Year of Reading Books by Women

In 2016, I had two crystallizing experiences about the kinds of books I read.

Crystallizing Experience #1:

I have had a Barnes and Noble edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray that I bought in high school for no reason I can remember and never got around to finishing. I recall trying to get through the first two chapters but getting bored, so it got shelved indefinitely. In 2016, I wanted to economize my 50-book goal as much as possible by reading the to-read books I already had, so I introduced Dorian into the rotation back in July.

As I was slogging through it, I realized that 15-year-old Zoë had the right idea about the book’s dullness. I’m sure at the time people thought this novel was interesting, but it doesn’t hold up today. It’s a story written by a white and privileged man about a white and privileged man, with a philosophical message about art (that it only exists to be beautiful) that I’m not sure I agree with. I did not like the gender dynamics throughout the plot, and the symbol of “whiteness” that kept coming up did not sit well with me.

At the same time, I thought about the books that I’d read as a student and in my post-grad life. In middle and high school, the book selections were often the “classics,” which was a designation I didn’t think about or challenge. In college, I was extremely lucky that my literature program’s texts came from a diverse group of professors who drew from a diverse group of authors, and that the class discussions were designed to make us students look past the surface level. Since graduating, I’ve kept working on expanding my literary knowledge: reading more from the authors I’d grown to love, the novels that the literary part of my Twitter timeline couldn’t stop talking about and theory texts and nonfiction books. This desire — to always seek out something new-to-me to read — is one of the things I like most about myself.

When I finished The Picture of Dorian Gray, I felt like I had wasted my time reading something that was supposed to be a gem in the English canon’s jewelry box. I hated that I felt that way, and it struck me as an opportunity to revisit and reconsider my choices in literature. I’m sorry that it had to be Oscar Wilde to get me to come to this conclusion, but it had to happen eventually.

Crystallizing Experience #2:

In an incredible essay, Rebecca Traister said exactly what I felt in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 presidential elections: “We have gotten a clear view of how deeply this country is invested in keeping women and people of color on the sidelines.” I thought that there was no way the American people way would elect a candidate that boasted he could grab women by the pussy, but I was deeply, deeply wrong. This national decision made me want to not only be a better woman, informed about her body’s physical and political properties, but to seek refuge in art made by women. I don’t think I’m the only one who felt this way.

Both of these experiences helped me come to the conclusion that I want and need to spend more quality time reading books written by women and people who identify as such. I consider myself an ardent, but woefully under-informed feminist, and that is unacceptable. I want and need to cultivate my thoughts on feminism and intersectionality to be able to fully participate in discussions. Most importantly, I want and need to spend my money on art and initiatives made by women who entirely deserve the support. I owe it to myself to do it.

Since I’m a big advocate of setting annual achievable goals, I decided to make this my 2017 goal — to read 50 novels and nonfiction books written only by women. Throughout the year, I’ll chronicle what I read like I did in 2016.  My only expectation is to expand on my thoughts around what it means to be a woman in the world. This project isn’t anti-white or misandrist. But it is a desire to appreciate exceptional artists in a purposeful way, and challenge myself to continually consider my world view. This is the moment I need to act upon it. Will you join me?






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What I Read: December 2016

To help me stay on track in my 2016 goals, I documented the books I read all year. I want to make sure I get out some thoughts close enough to December, so I’m sticking with the three-sentence model I’ve been using the past few months. Here’s what I read at the end of 2016:

Walt Whitman‘s Selections from Leaves of Grass.

I bought this vintage book at a used bookstore awhile ago, for two reasons: I thought the artwork was interesting (¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ) and I’d never read any Walt Whitman poetry. I figured that a selections book would contain the best stuff, but these poems did not move me in the slightest. I want to read more poetry, but I’m putting Whitman back on the shelf.

Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga.

This nonfiction book is about Hunter S. Thompson’s wild experience living with and reporting on the Hell’s Angels, a motorcycle group born in California in the 1960s — previously, I only knew about the Hell’s Angels from reading about The Doors. Thompson masterfully weaves the stories of the group into the bigger picture of the counterculture. I enjoyed reading this book, and never got tired of reading it or felt like hurrying to the end.

Carey McWilliams’ California: The Great Exception.  

This book is supposedly one of the books to read about California — it was written around the time of the state’s centennial, and takes a look at the problems that the state faced at the time and how it got there — but I will spare you the time of reading it (it is longwinded and often boring) by just telling you what my main takeaway was. Here it is, and it’s unsurprising: California would not be the way it is today if it hadn’t been for the Gold Rush, and the same social, economic and political problems we face in 2017 were the same we faced in 1850 and 1950. If you’re a fellow California  interested in reading more about the state, stick with Kevin Starr‘s work.

What have you been reading lately? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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