Things I Read That I Love #179: I Would Have You Be A Conscious Citizen Of This Terrible and Beautiful World

HELLO and welcome to the 179th installment of Things I Read That I Love, wherein I share with you some of the longer-form journalism/essays I’ve read recently so that you can read them too and we can all know more about Flint! This “column” is less feminist/queer focused than the rest of the site because when something is feminist/queer focused, I put it on the rest of the site. Here is where the other things are.

The title of this feature is inspired by the title of Emily Gould’s tumblr, Things I Ate That I Love.


I Thought You Would Help Me, by Ali Smith, June 2015

Ali Smith (a queer writer you should read) met with immigration detainees to record and tell their stories. Their stories were sad and horrifying, to various degrees. This is a really incredible piece.

Meet the Flintstones, by Edward McClelland for The Morning News, July 2015

I have a lot of feelings about Flint and feel really sad that these people can’t even give their house away. If you like reading about Michigan then you would like this. Or I don’t know, maybe anybody would like this. Maybe this appeals to readers of all ages in any geographical location with a wide variety of interests. There’s truly only one way to find out.

Swallow Your Pride: How A Homegrown Show Of Solidarity Became a Comercialized, One-Size-Fits-All Party Weekend, by Christina Cauterucci for Washington City Paper, June 2015

It wasn’t until I returned from a mostly-disappointing San Francisco Pride Parade (in which 8,000 Apple Employees of all sexual orientations, mostly straight, marched by us in matching t-shirts for over 30 minutes and this was part of what had been billed as an LGBT Pride PARADE. Straight people walking down the street and “parade” are not one in the same! Anyhow, read this article, it’s important.

The Life and Death of a Chosen One, by Peter Wilkinson for Rolling Stone, June/July 2005

Okay so I watched this (really poorly put-together) documentary about this cult, called The Family, that was basically organized pedophilia and is completely fucked up, and the story of Ricky Rodriguez, who was supposed to inheret the cult and instead ran away and then killed his nanny, obviously piqued my interest, so I found this article about it. Also, there’s this JANE Magazine article from many years ago on the same topic.

A Letter to My Son, by Ta-Nehisi Coates for The Atlantic, July 2015

I remember being amazed that death could so easily rise up from the nothing of a boyish afternoon, billow up like fog. I knew that West Baltimore, where I lived; that the north side of Philadelphia, where my cousins lived; that the South Side of Chicago, where friends of my father lived, comprised a world apart. Somewhere out there beyond the firmament, past the asteroid belt, there were other worlds where children did not regularly fear for their bodies. I knew this because there was a large television in my living room. In the evenings I would sit before this television bearing witness to the dispatches from this other world. There were little white boys with complete collections of football cards, their only want was a popular girlfriend and their only worry was poison oak. That other world was suburban and endless, organized around pot roasts, blueberry pies, fireworks, ice cream sundaes, immaculate bathrooms, and small toy trucks that were loosed in wooded backyards with streams and endless lawns. Comparing these dispatches with the facts of my native world, I came to understand that my country was a galaxy, and this galaxy stretched from the pandemonium of West Baltimore to the happy hunting grounds of Mr. Belvedere.

Revenge of the Nerds, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner for The Paris Review, June 2015

This was interesting because for all the thoughts I’ve thought about Taylor Swift (which are 90% good thoughts these days), I’ve never once considered feeling bad for the guys she’s writing about?

“That’s how Taylor Swift became the hero to of all of us losers, of anyone humiliated in middle school, the publicly dumped in high school, or anyone who ever realized during the car ride home the perfect comeback that would now go unsaid. We don’t all have the wherewithal to process what has happened to us and synthesize it into a pop song that will be broadcast to a bajillion fans. And we certainly, for the most part, lack the platform. Today’s teenager can craft the perfect Tweet or Facebook update, toy with it, post it, modify it, delete it. Taylor puts it out there, and out there it stays.”

Website, Reviewed, by Josh Dzieza for The Verge

I will probably also link to this article about  The Awl and its new tendency to cover the web like “science fiction is the present” in my next Business of Art fix, but that day is so far away that I had to share it here and now also. I have infinite wells of respect for The Awl and their editorial direction undoubtedly influenced ours, which launched shortly thereafter. It’s probably my favorite site besides this one.

The Awl went up on April 20th with a column by Emily Gould, a post about the Gawker office floorplan, and pithy news items from Balk and Sicha. “People were expecting something that was almost Gawker 2.0,” says Nieman Lab’s Justin Ellis. “Instead it was something smaller and focused on the writing, where people can write about the stuff they’re passionate or super nerdy about.” Insofar as the site had any kind of founding principle, it was that writers should only write about things they care about and not waste readers’ time. Its motto was “Be Less Stupid.” Would it make readers smarter? Vanity Fair asked Sicha at the time. “I realized that we just don’t really want any stupid people reading it — which sounds mean, but they have plenty of reading material already,” Sicha said. “I want to disinvite them.”

I Don’t Believe In God, But I Believe in Lithium, by Jamie Lowe for The New York Times Magazine, June 2015

Lithium, a mood stabilizer that can help stop and prevent manic cycles, is usually the first medication tried with bipolar patients; it’s effective for most of them. Including me. I was discharged and sent back to high school with an apple-size bruise on my hip. For two decades since then, I have been taking lithium almost continuously. It has curbed my mania, my depression and, most significant, the wild delusional cycles that have taken me from obsessing over the value of zero to creating a hippie cult (my uniform: bell-bottoms, psychedelic sports bra and body glitter, head to toe). As long as I take those three pink lithium-carbonate capsules every day, I can function. If I don’t, I will be riding on top of subway cars measuring speed and looking for light in elevated realms.

Riese is the 37-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key Jewish power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2798 articles for us.

64 Comments

  1. Riese, I loooove that lithium piece. I read it earlier this month and it really hit home.

    Have you read any of Maya Dusenbery’s work? She’s at Feministing, and she writes about women and health every now and again. Highly recommend.

    Now to read all these other pieces!

  2. The Life and Death of a Chosen One sounds completely horrifying and I am excited to read it in the worst way.

    Also, I’m kind of…disappointed to say I haven’t hopped on the T-Swift hype train. Like, at all. Between the Spotify and music streaming services thing and her only talking about feminism when it concerns her personal life and a bunch of other issues, I just can’t get into her. She’s pretty much the epitome of white feminism (I really hate using that term b/c I feel like it makes me look like I’m trying to separate myself from other white feminists like “oh no, don’t worry I’m one of the cool ones!” but like. IT FITS SO WELL).

    • From your comment you have way too much self awareness to be seen as part of the bigoted white feminist brigade. Don’t stress about it, as long as you are actively thinking about it there’s not much else you can do. Women like Swift and her ilk never examine their privileges in such a way so you wouldn’t be lumped in with them anyway. Just a WoC’s opinion.

  3. That piece about immigration detainees just broke my heart in two.
    If it had been set in the US I would have been horrified but not surprised… but I thought they paid a but more attention to human rights and living conditions in detention in the UK.

  4. Riese, a while back you mentioned that you were working on an essay about Taylor Swift’s progress as a human and artist I believe? I’m still super pumped to read it, is that still a thing that is happening? I don’t mean to pressure you at all or complain or anything assholey and if you at some point decided not to go forward with it I totally understand, but I’d love to hear your thoughts. I get in a lot of heated discussions about her (and also Miley Cyrus all the damn time), and I feel like you would express those thoughts like eight million times better than I can.

    also “evan rachel wood cover of an N’Sync classic” made wine come out of my nose, so thanks for that.

    • yes! yes i am. i think i did that thing where i worked on it a lot for like a week and then other shit happened and i let it go because i stll had so much more research to do and i think what will happen next is something will happen with swift that’ll make me itchy to revisit what I started and publish it so WHAT WILL THAT BE i hope we find out soon

  5. I used to read everything on Things I Read That I Love religiously. It was wonderful and I always had interesting random things to talk about at parties. However, one time I brought up the article about babies dying in overheated cars while I was in bed with my girlfriend, and that did not go over well. Real mood-killer.

    Then I got a government job and couldn’t leisurely browse the internet at work anymore (because anything you do on a government computer at work becomes a public record, and there were strict policies on internet use for non-work reasons). I still read TIRTIL sometimes, but I miss the good ol’ days.

    • That happened to me too with the piece about the babies dying in the overheated cars.
      I brought it up during dinner and my partner got so upset.
      I had just happened to have read a lot of really devastating stories about dead children around that time, and she couldn’t handle me talking about it anymore. :(

    • So, I also work for the (local) government, and my secret is that I save all the long stuff (and even not so long stuff) I want to read to Pocket, & then it’s easy to read on my phone or tablet or whatever, on the bus or on breaks or when no one is looking too closely at me. There are a few different apps that do similar things.

      It’s also just awesome for when there are links on Twitter or whatever and you just know the website is going to be shit on mobile, because you can load a clean, text-only version.

      This may have no relevance to your life, but it definitely helped me still keep in the loop when I was no longer working at the feast-or-famine, open wifi network non-profit.

  6. this was generally a really sad week of essays. like super super sad. the immigration one especially was heartbreaking. and the michigan one! and the one about the family!!

    i’m gonna pet my cats for a bit.

  7. Reading that article about Pride made me so sad. I have yet to make it out to any pride (which considering I live within comfortable driving distance of LA is a TRAVESTY) and I keep imagining this amazing life-affirming grand party with lesbians of all types all around and then I keep getting reminded that 1) straight people think it’s a great opportunity to go out and party without really ever considering why it started in the first place and 2) this is america and white gay men are more prominently catered to than anyone (in the LGBT+ world at least). Reading about how the D.C. Pride was almost totally cis gay male centered was such a depressing reality check.

    One day I’ll make it out and scope out all the great lesbian events to go to. ONE DAY.

    • I don’t party & I kind of hate people, so my secret to Pride (in Seattle) first is that I go to Trans Pride with friends, because it’s small (but growing!) & not commercialized at all. And then for actual Pride I skip the parade (except for the dykes on bikes at the start because obviously) & volunteer at the festival.

      I have a lot of feelings about Pride since it moved out of the gayborhood & into downtown, but if I’m volunteering then I have a purpose.

    • Same as Jaye, above! I usually go the the Dyke March on Saturday (Trans Pride is on Fridays during business hours where I live, so I’ve only been able to make it once) and then my partner and I host the alternative sit-in-the-park-and-be-mellow Gay Sloth on Sunday. It helps keep the weekend calm and queer. :>

  8. Man, the last line of the Smith piece is just devastating!

    Also, the essay on Capitol Pride makes me really hope that the Dyke March gets up and running. I would totally fly home and crash at my brother’s apartment to go to that!

  9. Yay! It’s official “Things I read that I love” day! Or maybe its just my personal excuse to hunker down and start a longread binge, starting with your picks.

    And now I can’t decide which one I should read first… Why are you so good at finding great and interesting reads, Riese? Then again, nevermind me, I shouldn’t complain about such first world troubles :D

  10. Yay this is my favorite column!
    Especially excited to read the immigration detainees and lithium pieces this week. I usually read one a day when these come out so as to stretch out the interesting.

  11. This is my favourite column by far, I always look forward to seeing what you post, I am excited when I haven’t read any of the articles and strangely more excited when you share articles that I have read and loved. There’s a couple here I have read but look forward to checking out the rest, there are so many things I probably would never had read, had you not recommended them…. So you are basically singlehandedly making us better informed humans!

  12. The piece on lithium was great and poignant. I used to have a best friend who was bipolar and prescribed lithium, although he was one of the people for whom it dulled and suppressed personality, according to him, so he didn’t take it regularly. That guy could drive from Michigan to Georgia without stopping to sleep. We had some epic road trips but eventually we fell out of touch because he was too much for me to handle. I was really young and didn’t understand his condition at all. I still feel sorry sometimes and wonder how he’s doing. I wish I could have read this article 10 years ago.

  13. The Pride piece is basically everything I have been feeling about Pride lately, all ambivalence and bittersweetness. I hope this is not a super offensive metaphor, I’m not sure what the best word for it would be, but Pride these days (she said, never having attended a Pride before the Obama administration) feels kind of gentrified, like the straight cis people finally decided it was a cool place to be and moved in in hordes and now it’s a lot more like every other full-of-straight-people place in the world. I mean, in a way it also feels weirdly nice that going to Pride is so mainstream now — my coworker, making small talk, asked me the Monday afterward if I’d gone to Pride, and I’m not out at work but I truthfully said yes, because we’ve reached the point where people don’t so much assume anything about you just because you went to Pride.

    I want Pride to stay political but I also want queer and trans people to have safe happy spaces to just have fun and celebrate our identities…which I suppose is political too in its own way. For anyone in SF, I recommend the Dyke March — I went for the first time this year and there was (judging by the alternative lifestyle haircuts among other things) a much higher proportion of queer people to straight cis people than the main parade, as well as more radical politics (I saw quite a few Black Lives Matter signs, as well as “The first Pride was a riot”).

    And I also remind myself what a privilege it is to be bored or tired of Pride, to be able to take it for granted and turn it down if I want, because I have other ways to find queer community. I remind myself how thrilling it was when I was 18 and could finally go to Pride after years of wanting to because I was living on my own for the first time. How my rainbow socks felt like a target painted on my chest and I kept half-expecting a slur or something thrown at me, and how when I got on the train into San Francisco, alone, a group of girls also wearing rainbow caught my eye and smiled at me, and I finally relaxed.

  14. Riese, I wanted to tell you how much I love and appreciate this column. I’m really looking forward to reading the pieces this week, especially the pride article and the Ali Smith piece. I’ve been meaning to read Ali Smith for a while – out of interest, what do you recommend I start with?

    Also, every week, I read the TIRTIL website blurb, and wonder what someone would make of it ripped out of any context:

    “Topics include lithium, a terrible cult, Taylor Swift, immigrant detention, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ letter to his son, LGBT Pride and The Awl.”

    …strangest convention ever?

  15. That Pride piece is great. I’ve been to 4 or 5 prides, two trans prides and a dyke march in my time and the dyke march was the best by far. I even got homophobic abuse at one pride from straight people there to enjoy the party.

    I think the main problem is that pride is now organised by mainstream gays who genuinely believe the idea that they need the businesses to pay for everything without ever genuinely thinking that a small community based event would be genuinely preferable to the capitalist sell out fest. I guess that’s white cis liberal gays for you.

    I marched with the trade unions at pride this year, thinking that the more people in the political section the more likely we are to dominate…not so. I don’t know what I expected when London Pride refused to let them March at the head of the parade and got a bank to do it instead.

    Next year im avoiding it. I’ve been involved in creating community spaces and events at pride and these are so much better. Hopefully we’ll reach a critical mass of queers avoiding pride marches and setting up their own stuff and pride will fold, but then again so many (usually white cis) queers don’t even see their identity as inherently political that we may just have to get used to being sidelined.

    Tl;dr – anti-capitalist anarcho queers for ever!

  16. I had never heard about The Family cult, but wow. That is some messed up shit. Though, I fully accept that religion can be a positive experience in people’s lives, it is so sad and infuriating when mental illness and religion work together to form cults and ruin so many people’s lives. I just can’t get beyond the idea that the founder’s mental issues, springing from his abusive family that blamed and shamed him (via religion) for being fondled by a nanny when he was very young and for masturbating, were the gasoline and his religious indoctrination was a match that caused the explosion. I’m disgusted by the actions of the founder and the cult members, but I also pity them. So sad.

  17. I strongly believe that Ta-Nehisi Coates is the best American essayist of our time — he writes about heartbreaking, horrifying things but maintains a sort of patience for his reader in a way that is truly beautiful.

  18. I like this column. I had my phone read me most of these while folding laundry and driving around yesterday. I have a couple to go. These are usually articles I don’t come across anywhere else.

  19. I love reading this column! I like to read Riese’s comments and then pick one or two pieces to read. They would probably all be good to read, but I like the process of choosing. This week I read the lithium piece, and thought it was really great, and much more interesting than attending seminars on “The Lithium Problem”.

    (As I think was mentioned in the article, lithium was created right near the beginning of the Universe, along with hydrogen and helium. All the heavier elements were made MUCH later, in stars. We can calculate what proportion of hydrdogen, helium and lithium there “should” be, if our models of the Universe are correct. But the number for lithium turns out wrong. It’s interesting… but I found the article even more interesting!)

  20. I don’t know if this makes me a bad person, but I always liked (even when I didn’t like her) the passive-aggressive side of Taylor lyrics. It’s kinda hard to admit but I’d probably do the same thing if I were her.

  21. So many things I’m into in this roundup, looking forward to reading: creepy cults, passive-aggressive Taylor Swift, The Awl, lithium. (Also a special thank you for including the paragraph with the link to emily gould’s initial hold your hand/bon iver lyrics piece)

  22. Using Commenting Week to force myself to stop lurking and say that this is one of my favourite columns! It’s also the column that is worst for my productivity, as I can’t claim that articles about cults and the prison-industrial complex are even tangentially relevant to my essays on early modern German literature, but I am happily reconciled to this by now.

  23. This article series is singlehandedly responsible for my newfound love of longform articles. It’s also what got me to start following Aeon, Pacific Standard, and Guernica in my RSS feeds.

    The amount of amazing content on the web is completely overwhelming, so I appreciate lists that are curated by trustworthy sources (like you!). I read this column every single week, so keep up the great work!

    • I also was introduced to Pacific Standard thanks to Autostraddle, and love it. Riese has fantastic curating skills, if she ever feels it’s appropriate to share the websites/newsources she uses most, I would be very grateful.

  24. That immigration article has really hit home today.
    My government has just passed a law that basically states any professional working in a detainee centre can and will be jailed for up to 2 years if they discuss anything that has occurred.
    This is extended to the medical professionals, who will be jailed if they report any instance of child abuse or crime.

    So, essentially, the Australian government is now protecting rapists and child abusers, because they don’t wish the general public to know about what is going on at the detainee centres.
    Yay, government!

  25. “Swallow your Pride” was such a great article, and as a small town teenage queer who thinks of Pride as “the afternoon of bad tie dye and the only non-abstinence sex ed in town” I love having Autostraddle to turn to learn about the larger queer community.
    I hadn’t quite realized how much the big city prides have failed to address queer cis women’s concerns; unfortunately, the failings in regards to black, trans, and gender non conforming queers were expected. The corporations only care about the queer customers with money, and who won’t scare away other customers, which means they only care about white, gender conforming cis men. I’m not sure what I can do to combat respectability politics like that, not sure of a lot of things involving being queer and visible, but I’m grateful to Autostraddle for discussing all these issues, and for specifically publishing non white and non cis perspectives. That’s helped me a lot, and I hope it means I’ll never be able to settle for the complacency of DC Pride.

  26. Riese I just want to tell you that I look forward to this every week. I’ve read all 179 posts but I have never once commented to tell you that. You set me up for my train commute reading for when it’s too loud in the carriage & I can’t concentrate on my book.

    Thank you for finding me such great things to read. I would never find half of them myself because I don’t know where to look. I’m smarter because of you. It’s important that you know that.

  27. I have yet to jump on the ‘Taylor Swift is better now’ bandwagon and that article only reminded me of why. The reference to Alanis highlighted the one-note flavour of Swift’s songwriting. ‘You oughta know’ packed a punch; a dozen songs about bad exes and evil slutty romantic rivals have only made Swift come off like a female version of a Nice Guy.

  28. The immigration article is just heart breaking. Even more so because she writes so well. I’m British and I want to share it on my social media because I feel like everyone should read it, but I can’t think of the words… There are no words.

  29. That immigration article is so good and so sad. One of my brothers is in a maximum security prison in the US and I’m pretty sure there weren’t that many layers of security the last time I went to visit him.

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