A few of my favourite things #22

1. The ISIS bureaucracy. Within the flood of new stories telling us the latest in horrific deeds by ISIS there is this. Something so incongruous, something completely unexpected. Behind the beheadings and cage burnings is a strange calm, a methodical move to become legitimate. A great article in The Guardian about ISIS busy with the business of state-building.

2. There once was a girl. Part- memoir, part- exploration of the way literature has historically valorized anorexia, Katy Waldman’s essay is beautiful and brave. I’ve always had a healthy relationship with food (C’mere, Ben. You too, Jerry). However, I can clearly recall my younger self reading tales of/by young women with anorexia and being fascinated by these girls who sought to bring order and alignment to their lives through food and exercise.

One book I read in my early teens featured a girl who based her eating and physical activity around colours and numbers. If it was a green day she would eat the lettuce from her sandwich and discard the rest. Peas from her dinner plate but not the squash. If three were the number, she might do three sets of some sort of exercise, maybe three times a day, and eat three shoots of asparagus. It was a striving for perfection, discipline and absolute control over oneself and one’s environment, from the body out.

When the internet became part of my life, I would sometimes trawl thinspo pages, read the LiveJournals of girls in the grips of this disease, and wonder how the writers of these journals could not recognise how emaciated they were and how they could yearn to be thinner, still.

Later, when I began studying Psychology, I learned of studies which showed that the brain activity of people with body dysmorphic disorder does not correlate with that of people without the disorder. In people with BDD, the part of the brain that responds to an image of a stranger is the same part that lights up if you show them a picture of themselves.

Katy Waldman’s piece mentions that when you are undergoing a state of starvation and there is no more body fat to be diminished, brain tissue is eaten away. Cognitive functioning suffers, taking with it the capacity to see one’s condition clearly.

Thinking about anorexia involves journeying through psychology, biology, biography and fiction. Katy holds a mirror up to the all too many works of fiction and non-fiction that unwittingly or otherwise glamorise anorexia and denying oneself of food, and shows us the ugliness of this practice.

3. A polar bear, mass destruction and global warming. I’m no scientist. I cannot give you the facts on how many degrees of warming is the tipping point for this planet as we know it. And I know I’m supposed to reject the power of the individual anecdote in favour of data. However this one slice of Camille Seaman’s story made me feel just so ill and such hopelessness, as a litany of ecosystems change at a rate faster than what many animals can adapt to or survive.

The opening paragraphs and accompanying photos of Camille’s Medium essay will break your heart.

4. Watching the decline of an industry from the inside. Dennis Perkins worked in video stores for 25 years. His most recent stint lasted 15 years, ending in August this year when Videoport in Portland, Maine closed its doors.

Now I have mixed feelings writing about this. On the one hand, I’m shot through with fond memories of the years my father and I rented videos from our local when I was a kid. On the other, the DVD store in Kingston has been sending me SMSs that are the short form, text-based equivalent of those screaming carpet ads on television. ‘Everything must go!!!!’ ‘$2 a DVD!’ ‘The landlady has spoken!!!’ The first couple of messages were bittersweet. Six months on (feels that way), they’ve become a lot less charming.

My experiences aside, Dennis’ piece is a very interesting read. He addresses points including the value of the local video store – specifically, the variety that’s home to staff who live and breathe movies who fill a role that IMDB could never replace – and the factors that led to the industry’s ultimate demise. Take heart though – this story has a sort of happy ending.

5. Home: Stories from LA . I love, love, love this podcast. It combines superb storytelling with, well, stories of LA. Simultaneously reflecting and prolonging my nostalgia for LA. It also helps that the narration by host Bill Barol has a real Roman Mars/ Nate Dimeo quality to it. Love.

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