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Ephemera in the New Year: Some Top Reads So Far

It’s a new year, whether you take that as a matter of course and turn over new leaves or whatever, or you view time as the “same as it ever was”, and there’s so much ephemeral stuff floating about.

I finished Zadie Smith’s Swing Time and loved it even more than I expected to. It’s an uncomfy read, in a good way, as a white middle class reader. I got so sucked in and felt myself identifying with the two main characters and then getting smacked awake at my arrogance. Recommend, recommend, recommend.

Something I *really* identified with, to an uncanny degree, is Anne Helen Peterson’s tribute (would that be apt?) to being in college in the late 90s, early 00s, before the internet became what it is now. My world was icq, napster (metallica broke my 12 yr-old heart when they sued napster, but here we are), hotmail, and and the university email system, and little else. There was a rich chump (to be fair my school was full of rich chumps) in my dorm who had a cell phone in 1998 and at one point I had the misfortune of being stuck with him in the elevator while he harangued the folks delivering his brand new toyota to our dorm. Nice mom car, by the way. We literally did wander around dorms and cafeterias looking for each other. It was romantic. The best was meeting up at the library or the fancy, exotic starbucks coffee cart just outside one of the classroom buildings. When I dropped out and had to walk across the city each morning to get to my job because the buses hadn’t started running for the day, I had an arrangement with my coworkers to be at a specific corner at 6:30am for a ride, and if I wasn’t there by 6:32, I’d be walking the rest of the way. No phone. Though, being deaf, I don’t really romanticize the days before texting. I do miss getting together with my people face-to-face for conversations and not half-assed conversations that sometimes happen via text or instant messaging (partly because these conversations are happening with hearing people).

Another thing I *really* identified with is Reading Ta-Nehisi Coates in Idaho. I first got into my mum’s worn college copy of Black Like Me (which is a super problematic piece of non-fiction, to put it mildly) in the middle school years, in a small town in eastern Ontario. Our part of the Ottawa Valley could have been described quite like Idaho is described. My mum was from a working class suburb in New England and came of age during the Civil Rights Era. The book meant different things to us, but it definitely made me feel confused about my whiteness and privilege – it unsettled me. Anyway, back to RTCI: read it! It’s a very thoughtful and genuine engagement with race, bigotry, white supremacy, and Idaho.

Becoming Ugly really got to me:

It was a game that everyone but me seemed to love. I was a girl who mostly hung around boys because I hadn’t yet learned that female friendships, though infinitely more confusing, were also infinitely more rewarding. I was the self-professed type who loudly preferred spending time with men over spending time with women because they were less dramatic and complicated. And so I surrounded myself with boys who found it funny to grab my body when I least expected it, and were spurred by my discomfort to push me further and more painfully.

The game ended the night that Tom*, the one who always grabbed me, did it to me again while we were walking up a flight of stairs. Familiarly, everyone laughed and I tried to join them, desperate to appear easygoing and in on the joke despite being the literal and figurative butt of it. But suddenly, the effort of it all—the smiling, nervous chuckling, and eye rolls that I had allowed myself over the past several months—sickened me. It felt like I was choking on my own vomit of anger and humiliation. To save myself, I’d have to spew my own bile. And so I turned and punched Tom directly in the groin.

Can’t really add much to that, but “story of my life” as a kid and a teenager. Ugh. Shame and dissociation and rage and futility, all in an easy-to-open can of spork.