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Citizen journalism in the age of Trump

February 26, 2017
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These are anxious times for free media. We have a president who systematically and deliberately delegitimizes the press, fears the truth, and views the First Amendment as a threat. At the same time, many newsrooms are lean and have limited resources.

There is hope, though. Thanks to social media, the Internet, and the proliferation of media outlets, there is an opportunity for anyone to become a citizen journalist – engaging, informing, and educating others.

Like it or not, we are the truth-tellers now. And this is how to do it.

  • Work a beat

It’s too easy to become overwhelmed by outrage fatigue. Instead, find one or two issues that you are passionate about, whether it’s gun violence, climate change, immigration, healthcare, LGBTQ equality, religious freedom, etc. Research those issues, and channel your energy in that direction. Become your own expert.

  • Be persistent

This is particularly important when confronting members of Congress who don’t value the voices of their constituents. When the voicemail is full, fax them. When the email goes unanswered, go to their office and knock on the door. Remember: When someone is evasive, that means you’re on the right track.

  • Greet the news with skepticism

Don’t be an impulse buyer of news. Read beyond the headlines. Find primary sources. Question numbers. Read transcripts in their entirety.

  • Be accurate with the news you spread

Confirm numbers. Look up facts. Make sure quotes are in context. Spreading falsehoods ruins your credibility, and other people will no longer take you seriously.

  • Demand answers

If you’re talking to an elected official, assert your power. They work for you. If you receive a response that isn’t adequate, call them on it. Ask what they’re going to do about the problem, how will they accomplish this, and when you can expect results.

  • Be clear

Communicate your message in a clear, concise way. We’re often talking about complex issues with a lot of nuance – we must cut through the noise to help people understand what is important and how it affects them.

  • Listen

A lot of people don’t post their politics on Facebook, tweet their issues, or write letters to the editor. They make their voices heard at the ballot box. It’s imperative we listen to their concerns now so we know how to best address them. We don’t want a surprise in 2018.

  • Ask questions

Find out why your friend, neighbor, or relative voted the way they did. Ask what they are looking for and what they hope to achieve. Why do they feel what they feel? Give up trying to find common ground; just find their ground.

  • Amplify the voices that aren’t being heard

The people who are loudest have an agenda, and their voices are already well represented. Find those who aren’t being heard and lift them up.

  • Look for new entry points into the conversation

I love novels because fiction allows us to address important issues at an angle. Fictional characters offer a distance we don’t get with the news, and it opens up valuable entry points for conversation. Find books, movies, TV shows that allow you to have difficult talks with other people.

  • Use the tools of storytelling

Legislation isn’t just a dusty document in some Congressperson’s office. These decisions affect real people, real families, maybe even you. Find the human story, as well as the significance and meaning of the story, and make the connection that policy is personal. Form a compelling narrative. Explain why this story matters.

The year in music: Best songs of 2015

December 29, 2015
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This wasn’t a huge year in music for me. I didn’t go to any shows, and I bought very few albums. I didn’t even make a single playlist on Spotify. Instead I was busy working, writing, and mommying, and I often felt stretched to the limit just juggling those things.

But that also means when I did make the effort to listen to new music, it had to be good. And there were some standout tracks this year. Here are 15 of my favorites.

You can also check out my best-of lists for 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Magnets (ft. Lorde) • Disclosure

I’m an old married lady now. But if I were still hooking up on the regular, this slinky, rattling tune would be my hookup jam.

 

Can’t Feel My Face • The Weeknd

Song of the year AND soundtrack for girls’ weekend with my high school besties.

 

Hotline Bling • Drake

Goofy dancing? Check. Video inspired by artist James Turrell? Check. Music that’s reminiscent of the Wii shop? Check. The result is a catchy, earwormy song that stays with me for days, as well as a video that always stops me in my tracks.

 

Kurt Vile • Pretty Pimpin

Every time I hear Kurt Vile, I find it difficult to believe he hails from Philly and not Joshua Tree. So when I found out his latest album, b’lieve i’m goin down…, was recorded at Joshua Tree’s Rancho de la Luna studio, the whole world suddenly made some kind of sense again.

 

Beck • Dreams

Even the worst Beck song is better than most other songs that dropped this year. (And maybe this isn’t the worst Beck, but it’s not the best Beck either.)

Chairlift • Ch-Ching

Soulful pop laced with stanky brass means this new Chairlift track is dangerously danceable.

 

Tame Impala • Let It Happen

This song is everywhere. I don’t know if I even like it anymore or if it’s holding me hostage.

 

Missy Elliott • WTF

Someday we’ll realize this is Missy’s world, and we’re all just marionettes in it.

 

Father John Misty • Holy Shit

I have a hard time choosing between all the wonderful, wry songs on I Love You, Honeybear, so I really labored over this decision. Today this one is my favorite. Tomorrow it’ll be “Bored in the USA.” And no matter my pick, Josh Tillman is brilliant. And beautiful. My god, look at that gorgeous man-beast.

 

Shura • 2Shy

Decades ago someone must have slipped a little bit of the ’80s into a time capsule. When it was opened in the spring of 2015, this is what came out.

 

Ezra Furman • Body Was Made

A body-positive, gender-fluid song that is a little bit Lou Reed, a little bit E Street? YAAASSS, BISH.

 

El Vy • Return to the Moon

El Vy is a collaboration between the awesome Matt Berninger, vocalist from The National, and Brent Knopf of Menomena, so that’s already enough to hook me before the song even starts. But the cleverly wrangled lyrics and classic New Order vibe are what keep me coming back.

 

Alessia Cara • Here

Alessia Cara has put words to much every party I’ve ever attended.

 

Diet Cig • Breathless 

This song is my 20s exactly, plus it has that tinny, garage-band sound I love.

 

Courtney Barnett • Pedestrian at Best 

(Trigger warning: Clowns.) Courtney Barnett must be my sarcastic spirit animal. I always find myself shaking my fist in the air and banging my head along to “Give me all your money, and I’ll make some origami, honey!” and I don’t even know why.

 

Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats • S.O.B.

My friend Lizi turned me onto this song, and it was an instant gift. I can’t tell you how many times it rips through my head on an average day. Also it neatly sums up my 2015.

 

So that’s me. What made the cut for your Best of 2015 list?

Questioning authority

July 29, 2015
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My son turned one recently, and that milestone brought an enormous package of emotions along with it, most of which I don’t even know how to unpack yet.

The point is that his birth — and the frenzied period of time that led up to it — has been on my mind a lot lately. When I went past my due date, my doctor insisted on inducing labor, even though I wanted to wait for the baby to come naturally. I begged for more time. I offered to go to the hospital every day and have additional tests to make sure the baby was still thriving, even though it meant paying for those tests out of pocket.

For this my doctor labeled me as “noncompliant,” and made a note in my file that I was a problem patient. She scheduled my induction and said if I didn’t show up to the hospital, she’d drop me as a patient and I’d have to deliver the baby on my own. The more I tried to reason with my doctor, the angrier she became, which was incredibly frustrating for both of us.

I cried. I didn’t understand why, if my baby was healthy, my doctor wouldn’t allow me to have the birth I wanted. Why didn’t I have the right to be in charge of my own body? I wasn’t making an outrageous request; I was merely asking for time.

Eventually I submitted. I was too vulnerable and frightened. I didn’t have the strength to question the doctor’s authority, even though I was certain I was right, and I ended up with a surgery that could have compromised my health and the life of my son. One year later, I still wonder if I would have had a better birth experience had I been more assertive and stood up for what I believed.

All of those memories were fresh as I watched the Sandra Bland arrest video, and it reminded me of my own standoff with an authority figure. The escalating anger and frustration. The questions that were met with aggression. A situation in which mere protest became a threat to someone with the upper hand. The dehumanization that followed.

The difference is that Sandra Bland didn’t waver. She knew her rights, and she didn’t cave. She displayed the courage I wish I had.

Do you remember those “Question Authority” bumper stickers? I used to have one of those, slapped across the inside of my locker in high school. It’s a phrase ripped from a Benjamin Franklin quote: “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority,” because it’s a good thing to challenge conventional thinking, to assert opinions, and to be critical. Somewhere along the way, that part of me fell silent.

I don’t know where to place all the rage and sadness I feel over Bland’s death. I don’t even know if my feelings matter, since this isn’t about me. It’s about the complex, sticky web of injustice, and the lack of empathy for those who at their most vulnerable. How do we even start to fix that?

My friend, Natashia Deón, posted this on Facebook when asked, “What can I do now?”: “You have your wisdom, your voice, your vote and your poetry. Even if you’re not a poet, the ACTIVE pursuit of justice is poetic. Be brave and Godspeed.”

This is what I want to do moving forward. I want to listen and learn from others, and cultivate empathy and compassion in the face of fear and injustice. I want to find that tiny voice inside that has been silent for far too long. More than anything, I want to be brave and outspoken, always questioning. Always, always questioning.

I hope you’ll join me.

 

Fifty Shades of Meh

February 14, 2015

Well, I saw the first screening of “Fifty Shades of Grey” this morning. Nothing like a little BDSM to dominate the breakfast hour!

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This is the big-screen adaptation of the best-selling E.L. James novel, the story of young college student Anastasia who falls for kinky billionaire Christian Grey.

What I liked: 

• The soundtrack contains “Beast of Burden” and a decent cover of “I’m On Fire.”

• Christian Grey has a very nice bathtub.

• Helicopters! And ultralights! Actually, I would have preferred to watch two hours of just helicopters and ultralights.

• 100% fewer scrunchies than in the book.

 

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What I didn’t like:

• I thought I’d finally escaped the book’s crimes against punctuation. Then Ana and Christian began an e-mail exchange in the film, their messages popped up on screen, and there were all those dumb ellipses again. Come on …

• Christian Grey has an entire closet of grey ties. Who knew there were so many grey ties in the world? But what else would you expect from the CEO of Grey Enterprises, located at Grey House, where they apparently manufacture pencils that say “Grey”?

• The book’s stilted dialogue comes off even flatter in the film. Every time Christian Grey said, “Laters, baby,” I wanted to spank him. And not in a BDSM way. In a schoolmarm way. And not a sexy schoolmarm. Like, my fourth grade teacher at Our Lady of the Rosary who used to throw rulers at kids.

• Do college graduates always shake the hand of their commencement speaker? That’s weird, right?

• I knew going into the book that it was Twilight fan fiction, but somehow I compartmentalized it as a separate piece of work. On screen, however, this is the Twilightiest thing that has ever Twilighted. There was one scene in particular where I expected Christian Grey to sparkle like a Stephanie Meyer vampire.

• At one point, Christian leaps on top of Ana and bites a piece of her toast. (Yes, toast. That’s not a euphemism.) I got very angry about this on Ana’s behalf. The bondage and slapping is one thing. But eating the food out of this poor woman’s hand? Have some boundaries.

• Christian’s safe words are basically Homeland Security threat levels.

 

Major oversight:

• There’s absolutely no use of Devo “Whip It” anywhere. Not even ironically.

 

OK, but how was the sex? 

• The sex was not very sexy. I have seen perfume commercials that are sexier than this movie. Heck, I’ve seen Swiffer commercials that are sexier. The sex here felt entirely clinical, and not at all inspiring, steamy or even interesting.

• Seriously. Old episodes of “Moonlighting” are sexier. Go watch those.

• What is the opposite of sexy? Because that’s what this was. It was as if I’d packed up my lady bits in a snowsuit and sent them off for a trek around Patagonia, that’s how distanced I felt from my body. I was dead inside for a good two hours.

• “The Thornbirds.” Way sexier.

• Has someone done “Fifty Shades of Greyskull” yet? Because I started writing that film in my head during the sex scenes.

• I’d say even “Die Hard” was sexier.

 

Overall:

• I thought it would be worse.

 

2014: Top 14 Songs of the Year

December 29, 2014

I’m a person who loves year-end lists, but this year it seems like there are lists upon lists everywhere, and even lists of lists. If I were a funnier, more clever person, I would aggregate the best of the best-of lists here. But I’m not. So I’m just going to go ahead and list my favorite songs of the year, the way I did in 2013. And 2012. And 2011.

Lists of lists upon lists.

Lists of lists upon lists.

 

Sylvan Esso • Coffee

This dreamy electropop song wheedled its way into my life like one of those cockroaches that crawls into your ear while you sleep and burrows inside your head. I didn’t like it at first. And then one day I put my hand on top of my husband’s in the car when he tried to change the radio dial, and it’s been with me ever since.

 

Glass Animals • Gooey

In contrast to the Sylvan Esso song, this is one I loved immediately. It’s sexy and slinky, and the video is totally freaky and mesmerizing.

 

The New Basement Tapes • Kansas City (And really all of the Basement Tapes)

So here’s what happened: Bob Dylan had a stack of brilliant lyrics just sitting around, because that’s what happens when you’re Bob Dylan. You wallpaper the house with unused song lyrics. You shine the silverware with them, you wash your face with them, and you stuff some into the toes of the boots that run too big. And then you give some of them to music producer T-Bone Burnett, who rounds up some contemporary musicians, and they create music for the lyrics.

The New Basement Tapes is the result of that. I love it all, in spite of the fact that it includes a Mumford.

 

Big Data • Dangerous

The song that will certainly be heard in a zillion car commercials. And for good reason — it’s a highly addictive, intoxicating song. I love the fatness of the beat, the way it seems almost too robust.

 

Clean Bandit • Rather Be

Solid, albeit throwaway pop. Every list needs one.

 

Blood Orange • You’re Not Good Enough

With a casual synth-soul vibe, Blood Orange makes some of my favorite writing music. It’s like someone took Ready for the World and sent them in a time machine to 2014 — which is, of course, awesome.

 

Saint Pepsi • Fiona Coyne

I dare you to listen to this and not dance.

I’ve heard it makes some people twirl a hula hoop around the living room and almost knock over a baby swing, NOT THAT I’VE DONE THAT.

 

Beck • Blue Moon

Beck rarely makes a misstep in my book. I love all the songs off his latest release, “Morning Phase,” which is calm and wistful, and a little bit melancholy. This song particularly resonates with me.

 

The Knocks • Classic

If you’re not putting this on your next road trip mix, you’re doing life wrong.

 

Tweedy • Low Key

This actually isn’t my favorite Tweedy song, but the video, directed by Nick Offerman, is the most fun.

 

Foxygen • How Can You Really

When I was a growing up in Ohio, this is close to what I thought California must sound like. 

 

Future Islands • Seasons (Waiting On You)

This song is this year’s version of M83’s “Midnight City” for me — it builds into something utterly compelling and gripping, which is so rare to find in synthpop.

 

alt-J • Every Other Freckle

Even though I’ve enjoyed alt-J for a couple years, I thought they might be something of a novelty. But after hearing their second album, I realize I might have been wrong. The sound is utterly unique and fascinating — I often find myself actively listening to alt-J — and the music feels more like a voyage than a song.

 

The War on Drugs • Red Eyes

I can’t even form a coherent thought when it comes to The War on Drugs. Etherial. Epic. Sweeping. Springsteen. Empty roads. Nostalgia. Cheap beer. Blue nights.

This is probably my very favorite song of the year.