What I’m Reading: The Love and Relationships Edition

It's complicated.

It’s complicated. (Photo credit: Channing Johnson)

If you and I spend any one-on-one time together, we inevitably get around to some of my favorite topics — love, fidelity, identity and memory. I cover human connection (and how technology is changing it) as a beat, so over the past year I’ve been writing more on these themes, with posts questioning whether online dating is really helping us make better matches, etc.

I’ve also evangelized the best show on TV right now (since Mad Men isn’t back yet), The Americans on FX. It’s ostensibly a show about Russian spies living as sleeper agents in the U.S. But really it’s about love, fidelity and identity. And it stars one of my mad crushes, Matthew Rhys. (I love Matt’s! And Welshmen!)

Buried in that exposition was RECOMMENDATION #1: The Americans on FX. Watch it. Seriously. Season 3 debuts on Wednesday.

Okay, here are the rest of my recommendations on this theme:

#2 Why We Cheat (Slate Magazine)
The author of the book ‘Mating in Captivity’ sits down for a Q&A, in which she dispels some of our black-and-white thinking about stepping out on our partners. The nut graf: “Very often we don’t go elsewhere because we are looking for another person. We go elsewhere because we are looking for another self. It isn’t so much that we want to leave the person we are with as we want to leave the person we have become.”

#3 The Split-Screen Marriage (The New York Times)

Showtime’s Golden Globe-winning (but not necessarily deserving) program, The Affair, explores the notion of perception and memory in our intimate relationships. It tells half its story from the man’s point of view, then flips midway through each episode to the woman’s perspective. Even though they remember the same sequence of events (for the most part), the tone and details are completely different. This NYT piece gets at “the canyon of ignorance that cuts across every human relationship” and got me thinking about how we can treat one other better by seeking to know our partners more.

#4 Vonnegut on Marriage (dannyman.toldme.com)

An argument for the villages of yesteryear — extended families. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote: “When a couple has an argument nowadays, they may think it’s about money or power or sex or how to raise the kids or whatever. What they’re really saying to each other, though without realizing it, is this: “You are not enough people!”

#5 Searching for Sex (The New York Times)

This piece made me want everyone to get laid more. As I mentioned in a previous post, an economist dives into the big data we have on sex-related searches, whether it’s penis size or the number of times “sexless marriage” is searched instead of “loveless marriage.” The results show Americans are have WAY TOO LITTLE SEX and that they’re really hung up about body insecurities.

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Everything I Know About Serial From Hearing Y’all Talk About It

Something crazy happened this fall. A serialized audio tale called Serial gripped the nation, becoming the most downloaded podcast in the history of podcasts. A spinoff of This American Life, Serial followed producer Sarah Koenig as she re-reported an old homicide case from Baltimore. Ever since it caught on with a certain set (read: people who I hang out with at bars), I was the fifth or seventh wheel in some-sort-of-Serial-conversation almost every day.

I have not heard a second of Serial.*

But since I sure do spend a lot of time at bars with you all, let met tell you about Serial based on never hearing it. All of us in the small club of Non-Serial Listeners should try this exercise:

Sometime around 15 years ago, a high school student named Adnan was dating a popular Asian-American student named Hae Min Lee (or something). He suspected she might have been cheating on her and may or may not have strangled her to death, put her body in a trunk, and got his marijuana dealer friend Jay to help him bury the body.

The Baltimore Police investigated and pinned the crime on Adnan, charging him with murder, which carries a sentence of life without parole. Adnan swears he’s innocent, though the details of where he was on the day Lee disappeared are hazy. All the details are retraced for us.

Jay-the-“friend” was critical to the prosecution’s case, as Jay testified that he helped bury the body and maybe something about picking up Adnan at a Best Buy. And there was some long chapter somewhere about whether there was a pay phone at the Best Buy back in the day.

The case goes to trial. But the first trial ends in a mistrial cause of something that went wrong with a juror maybe(?) and afterwards, the jurors polled indicated Adnan would have been acquitted.

High on this polling data of one jury in one space in time, the defense is confident going into the second trial. That doesn’t go so well. It might have to do with an attorney’s voice, which is difficult to listen to. There is debate about how sexist it is to complain about her voice. Adnan is convicted and sent to jail.

Koenig, in a jailhouse interview with Adnan (or several), finds him to be quite witty and charming. In the exploration of the case, the podcast casts doubt on whether Adnan actually committed the crime. Since the case hinged on Jay, they try to talk to him in the podcast but he proves elusive. Jay eventually gives and interview to The Intercept, but only after the podcast season concludes and apparently he’s kind of convincing in Adnan’s guilt. But of course he would be. Hrmmm.

The whole thing just DRAWS YOU IN on so many levels because it reveals how many variables are completely out of your control in the criminal justice system, the work that goes into shoe leather journalism and how our memories and perceptions deceive us. Just look at how unreliable eyewitness testimony can be. Koenig asks at one point, “What did you do last week?” AAAAHHHH NONE OF US CAN REMEMBER!

Oh, and then in the final episode or thereabouts, it is revealed that a serial killer was released from prison two weeks before Hae Min’s murder, and he later went on to rape and strangle to death an Asian American woman. This killer later committed suicide, so we can’t hear from him again.

The week-by-week Serial episodes spawn podcasts-about-the-podcast. Slate‘s is the most popular. Cocktail chatter about Serial can include questions like is it racist? (Insert something about the stereotypes of immigrant children.) Is this worth telling as a podcast? Isn’t every Law & Order episode an hourlong version of serial? What is the journalistic value of this? Why is Serial so effective?

This concludes your Serial introduction from someone who’s never heard Serial. Details are/were sketchy.

*I listen to one podcast. It is Andy Greenwald’s Hollywood Prospectus, from Grantland. I don’t even listen to it that regularly.


2014 Year in Review: What Kind Of Year Has It Been?

“Of course, life will randomly go to hell every so often, too. Cold winds arrive and prick you: the rain falls down your neck: darkness comes.” -Annie Lamott

I spent much of 2014 just barely hanging on. (In the NorCal redwoods, May 2014)

I spent much of 2014 just barely hanging on. (In the NorCal redwoods, May 2014)

It’s hard to look back at 2014 without feeling completely paralyzed. A missing plane, never found. A plane being shot out of the sky. Another plane that went missing in the final days of the year. ISIS beheadings, Crimea, Gaza, Ebola, school shootings, campus rapes, lethal cops, our nation’s intractable problem with race. Ryan Gosling fathering a child with some woman.

For me, the year started with bringing home a flu strain from Asia, my nanny quitting at the height of a dramatic fight with us and a week later, suffering my first miscarriage. The nanny that replaced the first one wound up disappearing from our lives by August because she somehow was knocked up and needed to go tend to her own baby. Yep.

In the summer I went to Ferguson and got automatic rifles drawn on me by eight jumpy cops.

By October, I had finally moved desks as a gambit to change up my feng shui. A new beginning, I thought. On the very same day, the staff received an email — I read it at my new desk — that friend and mentor and the reason I came to work at NPR had been dismissed from his job by our new CEO. When I called my husband to commiserate, the first thing he said to me wasn’t empathetic but, “I hope you’re not crying at your desk right now.”

Then, two days before Christmas, after running into get a sandwich in the freezing rain, I returned to my car to find my purse and computer had been stolen sometime inside of four minutes. Merry Christmas, assholes.

That is the pessimistic take, of course. All our first-world “hard times” are nothing in the scheme of things. And there were moments of great love and delight this year, too. As I’ve done for 10 years now, here’s a Hu look back:

Favorite Discoveries on the Internet: Clickhole. The Passenger Shaming Instagram account.

We did not have a selfie stick for this. This is just Eric Schmidt's pure talent.

We did not have a selfie stick for this. This is just Eric Schmidt’s pure talent.

Favorite Selfie: The one Google Chairman Eric Schmidt took of us. He snapped a lot but I liked the one where I wasn’t paying attention.

New Experiences: Tear gas. Being in the crosshairs of cops. Jellyfish sting in Jamaica. Dangerous halluciongenic crisis in Jamaica. Couples crisis brought on by aforementioned dangerous drug trip. Aspen Institute. Doing a Planet Money podcast! Having a pregnant au pair. Speaking at the UN. Seaplane flight. Oculus Rift virtual reality experience. The miscarriages.

Randomness: Running into Obama in Denver. Getting lost in the briefing room. Hung out with a semi-famous actor-I-will-not name and watched him effectively bum some weed off strangers.

And in no particular order, this year I:

Flew 72,952 miles to four countries and 28 cities. Was gone from home 90 days this year, though it felt like way more.
Visited the Taiwanese News animation studio (a favorite from a previous Year in Review), told a story about it.
Took some creepy stalker photos of Sofia Coppola at a pool in Miami.
Moderated a panel on wearables at SXSW and did not wear Glass despite lobbying efforts by the Glass guy.
Got Taco Cabana delivered to my hotel room at the moment we needed it the most.
Partied with Scoot McNairy.
Got solar panels on our house.
Became buddies with a Hollywood funnyman named Alec Berg after interviewing him about his show, Silicon Valley. This led to a friend reunion with my high school pal from 9th grade, Scott Mechlowicz. Small universe.
Got retweeted by Martellus Bennett.
Survived longest winter in DC in maybe ever.
Taught a quarter at Northwestern.
Taught a semester at Georgetown.
Stayed at YMCA in the redwoods.
Attended four weddings. (Crissy, Alexis, Tim, Drew.)
Went on a hike in Aspen with Lance Armstrong’s nanny.
Parked wrong in San Francisco. Paid a $600 price for that mistake — the $440 base towing cost, plus the $150 citation.
Did a little talk with Eric Schmidt.
Reconnected with my high school economics teacher, Mr. Coates.
Got a is-a-burrito-a-sandwich story on national air for more than five minutes.
Convinced my editor to get some online clothes styling with me (for a story, of course).
Covered #Ferguson. Dealt with difficult feelings afterward.
Lost my favorite boss. (Not from earth, just from work.)
Saw Seoul. Prepared to move there.

It wasn’t a bad year, entirely. I just had some of the hardest days and weeks of my life during the course of this year. It felt unrelentless at times. Tears were shed. Mistakes were made. But ultimately we survived. Here’s to a brighter, more peaceful 2015.

Previous Years in Review:
20132012 | 20112010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004

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A Week In My Near Future

Some girls devouring street food in Myeongdong, a central shopping area.

Some girls devouring street food in Myeongdong, a central shopping area.

Back from Seoul. It was intense. I’m starting to get over uncompromising jet lag after taking two 14.5 hour, International date line-crossing flights inside five days. That meant I had only four days on the ground in Seoul to do a lot of preparation for moving there. I interviewed five candidates to be my translator/assistant, visited three preschools and saw 16, yes 16 different houses and apartments in Seoul. By the last day of house-hunting I really wanted to just pick something or throw in the towel.

A few observations:

Really going to like the heated seats on the Subway, which is also the cleanest subway system I’ve ever encountered. Don’t even get me started on how polite everyone is compared to the subhuman experiences in Shanghai, Beijing and being flabbergasted by the people who play their music without headphones on the DC Metro.

I have never seen so many post-op women just out and about in the city. I knew South Korea was some sort of cosmetic surgery capital but I didn’t expect to see it so obviously. It seemed like I couldn’t turn my head without seeing a gal with one of those skin-colored silicone nose covers protecting her face after a nose job. I told Matty about it and he says this is exactly what happens in the near-future predicted in The Hunger Games.

My mom met me in Seoul and while she had her own friend to hang out with while I did my work-related stuff, she did go on some of the househunting trips with me and we got to hang out together, just the two of us, which we hadn’t done in awhile. It made me really want to spend more time with my momma. I find a lot of the transitions coming up quite unnerving, but my mom makes me feel like I can handle anything.

And finally…

Someone I read a lot — Sean Bonner — recently wrote about how he missed his “old way” of blogging, in which he just spewed out whatever was on his mind into a post. We all tend to write about a single idea in each post now, which makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons, but maybe not for personal blogging. I miss the stream of consciousness blogging, too. I was reading my old blogger blog from my early twenties and remembered how much I enjoyed just writing whatever silliness was on my mind, without any particular connecting themes or organization.

Anyway that’s neither here nor there. Which is sort of my point in sharing it. I think I’m returning to posts devoid of any central points. Some more photos, below.

It Takes ID To Get ID: A Lesson in Opening an Office in Korea

Back when I covered Texas politics, the voter ID debate came up time and time again. Lawmakers eventually passed it in 2011, the legislative session I never finished covering. One of the complaints about a measure requiring voters to show ID and not just a voter registration card in order to cast a ballot was this: “It takes ID to get ID.”

Democrats argued that the measure disenfranchises seniors, minorities and the poor, like many of the Texans born to midwives, who might not have issued formal birth certificates. Or those who didn’t have a drivers license to start with and are now in their seventies and eighties. Being able to exist all your life without certain documentation, and then suddenly having to get it, would be too onerous a task for many voters, voter ID opponents argue.

This kind of hassle is really coming into full focus for me lately, in a totally unrelated situation. You may recall we are preparing to open the first ever NPR bureau in Seoul, South Korea. The paperwork hoops started with the gruff visa guy who wouldn’t grant me a visa for journalism activities until I had a business certificate. How does one obtain a business certificate? Your business must be registered with an address. How do I lease a place in order to have an address? I need a bank account. How do I start a bank account? I need a Korean alien registration card. How does one obtain an alien registration card? With a business license or visa.

You get it.

I leave for Seoul tomorrow, to try and resolve some of these issues in person. I’ll blog along the way. Wish me luck.

You Should Totally Waste Some Time Watching These Music Videos

I would like to assemble a panel of art critics who have never before been exposed to Go West’s ‘King of Wishful Thinking’ video to review this absurd and delightful artifact from 1980s humans. It really deserves far more attention than it’s gotten. I was reminded of it this morning by my friend Johnathan Woodward, who put it this way:

I sent it to friends Claire and Wes, who looped in Friend Mito.

CLAIRE: Oh my god what is this.
MITO: The keyboard guy at 1:01 and 1:43!!! SO GOOD.
MITO: Oh I get it. Are those kitchen sinks being tossed in at the end?
WES: It would make a pretty good musicless music video, I think.
WES: Wait, the Singin’ in the Rain one is better. Have you all seen it?

MITO: I love it. It’s even better than Phish Shreds:

WES: Ahh, I’ve never seen that before. I can’t stop laughing.

Credit: http://slugsolos.tumblr.com/

Credit: http://slugsolos.tumblr.com/

What I’m Reading: Post-Labor Day Edition

How did this summer pass us by? I think it might be all the doom and gloom. I’ve tried to not think about it too hard, to avoid a malaise spiral in which I end up playing Radiohead’s ‘No Surprises’ over and over.

Anyway, now that I’m more or less recovered from Ferguson, I’m back to reading too many periodicals and posts. Some of them are:

The Worst Governments in America are Local Governments

Contrary to what we hear all the time about local governments being more responsive and accountable, this Jonathan Chait piece shows how state legislatures merely get elected because of the national mood, and local governments can be worse — downright oppressive. Ferguson’s problem is not police militarization, he argues, but the Orwellian attitudes that come with it.

With Big Data Comes Big Responsibility

Friend Om, who inspired me to put together these What I’m Reading lists in the first place, wrote this piece a couple months ago and it comes packed with a lot of big ideas. One of them I’ve been wrestling with is that so much of our privacy and subsequent feelings of security online are due to the benevolence of the Googles and Amazons of the world. How long will they be benevolent?

The WTF Did I Miss? recaps of Masters of Sex

If you’ve spoken to me anytime within the month of August, you’ve heard me wax rhapsodic about the wonder that is Showtime’s Masters of Sex, starring Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan. Their acting is heartbreaking and the show plumbs the depths of so many topics that fascinate me; love, work, identity, intimacy. But reading these spot on and belly-achingly funny reviews took my Masters of Sex experience to another level. You must read them if you’re a fan of the show.

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Left DC, Went All The Way To Denver And Obama Showed Up

DENVER — It’s weird living in the nation’s capital, with Marine One constantly buzzing over your house as POTUS or VPOTUS head to Andrews Air Force Base. And “powerful people” wearing special lapel pins to indicate they are lawmakers or People Who Are Professional Pundits On Cable TV hanging around at the same restaurants and parties you do. It’s nice to get away and go to the real Amerricuh, where you can remove yourself from the proximity to power and its pitfalls.

But tonight, my escape to Denver was thwarted by the President. Blocks away from the bar where my friends Tim and Danielle were awaiting my arrival, my cab got blocked by cops. There was clearly Something Important Happening. I ended up walking to where I needed to be, only to be stopped because at the same moment I was supposed to arrive at the Wyncoop Brewery (co-founded by now Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper), a guy named Barack Obama pulled up with at least a dozen other black SUVs in tow.

As I’m outside being blocked from entering, the press pool rushes by, scurried in through a back door. That’s when my colleague Scott Horsley and I ran (almost literally RAN) into one another on the sidewalk. No time to talk, Secret Service rushed him in. I should have just joined them and snuck into the restaurant in that confusion, but instead I obeyed the rules, got pushed to this gawking area behind a barricade, until I talked two cops and a secret service guy into escorting me into the bar while the President was upstairs playing pool with the governor.

See all those people behind the motorcade? That's where I was stuck for a few minutes until talking my way into a personal escort into the bar. Thanks Secret Service!

See all those people behind the motorcade? That’s where I was stuck for a few minutes until talking my way into a personal escort into the bar. Thanks Secret Service!

My gal pal Danielle wanted a photo with the President's personal physician.

My gal pal Danielle wanted a photo with the President’s personal physician.

Best part of this whole random Denver incident was running into my journalist pals in the traveling press corps. There's old friend Colleen Nelson waving at me after the pool had to leave but regular bar patrons could stay inside.

Best part of this whole random Denver incident was running into my journalist pals in the traveling press corps. There’s old friend Colleen Nelson waving at me after the pool had to leave but regular bar patrons could stay inside.

Hadn't been this close to him since the time I interviewed him in a bathroom.

Hadn’t been this close to him since the time I interviewed him in a bathroom.

After POTUS got in the car, Hickenlooper (right) hung back. I later asked him to join us for a beer, like that one time in Salt Lake City, but he had to go to two more events.

After POTUS got in the car, Hickenlooper (right) hung back. I later asked him to join us for a beer, like that one time in Salt Lake City, but he had to go to two more events.

Chicago, Cambridge: A June Travel Blur

The Tumblr-sponsored green room at MCON14. There's our pal Azita in the middle, and at left is record exec Todd Moscowitz. Pizzas just cause.

The Tumblr-sponsored green room at MCON14. Pizzas just cause.

Between my day job and teaching our master’s program journalism class at Georgetown, somehow I squeezed in a few trips. Was delighted to moderate the final on-stage chat at the Millennial Impact Conference in Chicago, in which Warby Parker and Harry’s co-founder Jeff Raider and I joked around about beards. We followed that up in Tumblr’s green room, in which we made a shitty gif.

Goofing off with Jeff Raider after closing out #MCON14.

Goofing off with Jeff Raider after closing out #MCON14.

When I tried to go home from Chicago, your standard incompetence at O’Hare (which they called “weather” — a huge affront to actual weather situations) led to the cancelation of my flight home. So I stayed an extra night in Chicago, in a lovely boutique hotel called the Ivy. My only beef with it was the mattresses there rest on these dark wood bed frames that jut out to stab your ankles when you’re not careful. I am pretty banged up from my bed.

Spent one night at home before flying to Cambridge for the Knight/MIT Center for Civic Media’s annual Civic Media Conference. That conference is always special because of the sheer brain power and wit that gets squeezed into an overly-air conditioned room. And it’s a reunion, of sorts, for a lot of the Knight family of friends and advisers.

This year I also got a story out of it, when Friend Noah laid out the complexities of a legal debate over whether a burrito qualifies as a sandwich. Seriously.

All of this was punctuated with you sending me Yo’s at random times. Thanks, yo.

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