Want To Help Houston? A Few Places To Start

So many swollen bayous right now.

If you, like me, are watching Houston drown from afar and want to help, here are a few places to start:

If you have particular local-based non-profits that you think are worth adding, please let me know in the comments or send me a note.

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I lived in Houston the fall of 2001, after Tropical Storm Allison led to destructive flooding that was, at the time, historic. Allison now seems quaint compared to what we’re witnessing happen under Harvey.

What I remember about that time was the Allison recovery consumed so much of the energy in the area. But then, two more breathtaking news events happened: September 11, and not long after, the fall of Enron, which was to Houston what GM is to Detroit. So even though this makes no logical sense, I’m filled with a sense of foreboding about what’s next.

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What Does A ‘Crazier’ Fox News Even Mean?

This news, or news or rumors, immediately made me think of Big Red Son*, a non-fiction David Foster Wallace piece about the Adult Video News Awards, which are like the Oscars for porn. Stay with me.

Wallace’s style is heavy with footnotes. (Someone once admitted to me she DIDN’T READ THE FOOTNOTES, which I found shocking because well, they are the best.) Despite reading this essay collection nine years, four cats and three children ago, one of the footnotes in Big Red Son never left me. It was about how porn defined itself by being subversive, and the more acceptable it became, the more depraved it would have to get in order to keep its status.

When I saw the headlines about a possibly “crazier” version of Fox News, my mind jumped right to that old footnote:

“Respectability creates a paradox. The more acceptable in modern culture it becomes, the farther porn will have to go in order to preserve the sense of unacceptability that’s so essential to its appeal. As should be evidence, the industry’s already gone pretty far … it’s not hard to see where porn is eventually going to have to go in order to retain its edge of disrepute.”

I’m pretty worried that since we’re in an age when Nazis are up for debate, where would a “crazier” Fox News even go with its discourse? You know what, don’t answer that question.

*The piece is found in Consider the Lobster and Other Essays, a collection I recommend wholeheartedly.

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We Live in Public

The ‘We Live in Public’ premiere at SXSW. PC: Frank Gruber

Almost a decade ago, at the SXSW film fest, I saw a documentary about a man ahead of his time called We Live in Public. He rigged cameras all over his house and live-streamed his life with his girlfriend, a prophecy of the privacy-rejecting times to come. The film unsettled me back then, and raised a lot of serious questions about the implications of living under a construct like this. Now his avant garde art experiment is reality, especially in China, where people are making $100,000 a month live streaming their most mundane moments.

One of the primary concerns I have about all of us living in a mediated reality (one in which you are aware of an audience gaze) is how it affects identity formation. That is, during adolescence, when developmental science indicates people are quite literally forming their own identities, establishing who they are as adults who are separate from their parents, today’s adolescents are also forming their public identities (on Instagram or what not) at the same time. These two selves may be completely dissonant, and neither is even fully “formed” yet. What a mindfuck!

The summer between 9th and 10th grade, a group of cheerleaders from my high school decided to pose for a group picture topless except for belts they fastened around their chests. They took the film for developing at Eckerd (you see, children, back in those days we would get our film rolls developed at a 24-hour pharmacy). Another high school student worked at the Eckerd photo corner, saw the shot when reviewing the final photos and scanned it. This was 1998, so the photo was passed around as email attachments, and everyone who was anyone saw this photo, but it eventually stopped being a thing. Can you imagine if this had happened in the age of social media?

Had I paid more attention in philosophy classes, I would probably know this problem is as old as time, and it’s just expressing itself in a different way now. But I do think about it a lot because my daughters are post-millennials, and damn, what a world. Even given the minor professional obligations I have to be “in public,” I’m constantly unsure how much/what to share in public spaces. Suffice to say it will not be anything involving topless belt photos.

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The Summer of The Summer Bucket List

Hands down the top conversation topic of the week.

This bucket list, which was allegedly found in an Urban Outfitters dressing room, basically made my week. It’s not only hilarious in its substance but also in its specificity (seven bikinis, two blow jobs, hooking up with Jacob). The other thing that gets me is its wild divergence from adorable innocence (stargaze, pet a giraffe, decorate room) to adult extracurriculars (drugs and sex). And some of it was comic just because it didn’t make sense until the internet figured out what “Go Ape” (a ziplining place) and “Randyland” (a Pittsburgh-area landmark) meant.

The list then led to think pieces and parodies, like the summer bucket list of a 35 year old woman or, what parents should think of the bucket list.

For me and my friends it just made for endless rounds of laughter and discussion at parties. When we were hosting the visiting New Yorker scribe Evan Osnos in Seoul on Friday, friend Jonathan had not HEARD ABOUT THE LIST (where was he all week!?!) and so he subsequently spent several minutes reading it and laughing until his face turned beet red.

At a different party (in a probably-too-cool-for-me vinyl record-themed bar) on Saturday, Friend Alex and I brought it up with a Pennsylvanian (did you know Pennsylvanians insist on referring to their state as P-A, instead of Pennsylvania?) and he was so excited that other people learned about RANDYLAND. True story: today he sent me two business cards he saved from Randyland, which he found in old stuff as he prepares to move back to America on Tuesday.

I know there’s speculation someone planted this list as a joke but due to its specific Pittsburgh-area references and just a gut feeling, I’m gonna say it’s real. And whoever this woman is I hope she is enjoying her anonymous fame. She brought a smile to us all during what feels like ongoing crises in the country and world.

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Recommended Links: Dad Jokes And More

Links from my newsletter, in the form of a list. You can get these in your inbox by subscribing.

NPR is marking Father’s Day with a barrage of dad jokes on Twitter.
Everything is coming “in two weeks.”
Acts of gun violence are inherently political.
The trouble with telling American women they can do anything.
Analyzing James Comey’s high school yearbook entry.
An excellent longread on following Trump’s money.
My two favorite culture writers hung out.
The literary greatness of a rabid raccoon drowning story.
The pet “cone of shame” is so yesterday.
The Senate health bill is the logical end point for politics as performance art.
How many times since 2011 have courts found the Texas Legislature discriminating on basis of race? SIX TIMES.
Indian-Americans could be just as dominant in basketball as spelling if given early access.
“My husband and my travel wife are both generous.”
Marie Kondo, but more, is the Danshari way of life.
Sequels to Hemingway’s six-word story.
The unfettered joy of a surprise Tiny Desk Concert.
Britney Spears sings Toxic without autotune.
A peacock walks into a liquor store…

Writings and Other Creations
A dispatch from the #Hyojam nuptials, and NPR rolled out two Elise Tries episodes since my last letter: the one about pore vacuuming, and the one about Japanese toilets. Speaking of which, apparently Americans are all walking around with poopy butts, so it’s time for everyone to invest in TOTO’s. (h/t Friend Sean)

Watching

Recommendations
Take a break from headlines to look at beautiful images. Aforementioned Friend Sean has a book of Tokyo street photos available on Amazon. Or just gander at the photo blog of Channing Johnson. A friend of 15 years, I used to rent his talent for free we were in school together. Now he’s a big time wedding photographer and his work is so, so lovely.

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Recommended Links: If You Read One Thing From This…

Links worth a look.

Here are this week’s links from my newsletter, in list form.

The David Foster Wallace commencement speech “This is Water
George Saunders’ ‘Congratulations, by the way”
If you read only one thing from this newsletter, make it Rebecca Solnit on Donald Trump.
Hunter S. Thompson said there’d be days like these.
This frightens me.
Russia’s VEB is not a bank.
callous legislative session could make Texas a turn-off.
The most harmful thing about a secret isn’t its content.
Friend Liz reflects, a year after going public about being raped.
Goodbye, Frank Deford.
A race to save what’s on old VHS tapes.
Barack Obama and the Most Interesting Man in The World, a bromance.
“Life loves the liver of it.”
There’s something zen about the return of Jim Carrey.
Silicon Valley‘s played out Asian stereotypes. The geography of hip hop.
All-you-can-eat, in New York.
People today are 10% heavier than we were in the 1980s, even with the same diet and exercise levels.
McSweeney’s nails it with a parody of baby boomers (h/t @dannydb).
Profanity is pain-relieving.

Not quite back at work but a side project, a video series called “Elise Tries,” launched last week. It explores curiosities across my patch of Korea and Japan, and the pilot features a harrowing few moments with raccoons. Future episodes are less dangerous but arguably more humiliating.

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Recommended Links: A Trump-Free Edition

I put out a newsletter — called the Hu’s letter (groan) — that I’ve deliberately not promoted because I like that it’s small. It feels like I’m just writing to a handful of old friends. In it I share links that I found thought-provoking or just worthy of other people’s eyes, what I’ve written or said to other press, and pop culture ephemera I’m consuming in a given week. Sometimes I include product recommendations, but only if I’m feeling passionately about said products.

Almost 50 newsletters in, I’ve found that the search function in TinyLetter, a free newsletter platform, is terrible. I can never find OLD links I know I shared but want to re-read for whatever reason. So I’m going to put most of each latest newsletter’s links in list form, as a post, since the search function works much better on this here blog.

What I Read
That gif above says a lot about male entitlement in Korea.
This photo essay masterfully flips racial stereotypes.
Journalists drink too much and are bad at managing our emotions.
What ADHD is, and isn’t.
We all need to care about the 2020 Census.
How to respond to terrorism.
An awful attempt to shut down a reporter.
A compelling goodbye to NPR.
The U.S. maternal death rate is unacceptable.
People are helping pay off school lunch debt to stop lunch shaming.
Mark Zuckerberg, establishment man.
Even the Kardashian show has gotten sad.
A pet tortoise teaches us about mortality.
Leaked CIA travel tips.
Free the MILF.
This moving profile of Mr. Rogers, from the Esquire archives.
Someone visualized every color cardigan Mr. Rogers wore.

My Own Musings
Goodbye to my grandmother, an OG feminist trailblazer.
And quick thoughts on the emotional work of motherhood, with GOOD Magazine.

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Here Are My Favorite Links on Love

Hangin’ out some hearts. Source: Gloria Garcia, Flickr Creative Commons

To mark the holiday, I went through my Evernote for links I’ve saved on modern love:

Joan Didion on loving yourselffirst. Nora Ephron and what love is like in the movies. Falling in love with a friendPreserving love in a culture of fear. Kurt Vonnegut on marriage. Whether you’re a libertine or a loyalist in relationships, you’re wrong. The Americans reminds us marriage isn’t black-and-white, and neither are politics. The operative fallacy about unconditional love. I want everyone to get laid more. What if the purpose of love is to break us up? The quantified breakup. True romance is the “palpable, reassuring sense it’s okay to be a human being.” “Real love is one that triumphs lastingly, sometimes painfully, over the hurdles erected by time, space and the world.” And my favorite Zadie Smith: “Joy is such a human madness.”

I enjoyed going through my Evernote, in which every link I save I associate with several tags, so that I can go back and find saved links on general concepts when they strike me. If you liked this sort of “links on a specific theme” thing, let me know and I can feature other themes in the future.

This post is excerpted from my near-weekly newsletter, the Hu’s Letter. You can subscribe if you’re into that sort of thing.

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