January 13, 2017

“Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.”

Modern Adventuress

13 JANUARY 2017

Hello letter friends,

Happy Friday the Thirteenth to you. It’s the middle of January and I’m dragging just a bit. I do find, however, that videos of animals playing in the snow help. Apply as often as needed or desired.

Today I have for you a light serving of links, a recommendation, a past essay and a new essay on fighting. Plus the introduction of a new charity project that you are all invited to contribute to.


"In 1999, the internet was not yet real life.” Anne Helen Petersen on the not quite internet. I also graduated high school/began college in 1999, so I’m here for this one. In retrospect, it was a strange time of transition.

"What (mostly male) critics fail to recognize is that their reasons for dismissing women’s magazines actually form the foundation of those publications’ success.” Of course people are turning to women’s magazines for quality political coverage.

"I taught my daughter that a woman can fight demons all on her own.” Horror movies and the single mom.

A bit I recently learned about Frank Sinatra’s mother—who was a pretty badass progressive.

Inside Japan’s only restaurant with all-female sushi chefs.

Where and how the blues is popular in Japan. A fascinating piece.

Evocative photographs of deserted Catskills resorts.

Alison Willmore on La La Land and the privilege of Hollywood nostalgia.

Criterion has released a new restoration of His Girl Friday! This is an exciting event, given that most of the times it’s available it’s of poor quality. Also, Farran Smith Nehme pens an essay on the film’s charms, chief among them its heroine.

For the past forty years, billy barr has been living alone in a Colorado ghost town, spending his time taking walks and making meticulous records of the weather. He is my new hero.


On Writing
Stephen King

I have never read a Stephen King novel. Not necessarily on purpose, although I think I was discouraged from doing so when I was young and I never bothered to change it. But I did read his nonfiction creativity treatise On Writing around the time when it first came out (2000?), and always remembered it as a very wise and useful book. Recently, for the first time since my initial reading, I picked it up again, and found it still very wise and useful. There is obviously a lot of practical advice there for Those Who Write, but I think it would be relevant to any human who lives in the world and communicates to other humans in the same situation. Which description, I assume, many of you fit.


"But his story has inevitably been morphing towards its natural conclusion, which is one that everyone catches on to as they get older: reinvention without deep-rooted growth is merely borrowing time. If you can make anyone believe you are what you want to be, you will eventually come to question why you even want to. And even if people believe a positive image of you—maybe especially when people believe a positive image of you—it will not save you. Instead, they will take over the story you started to tell and dictate its ending to you.”

For today’s look back, it’s to the end of Mad Men and on starting over.

The Modern Adventuress Action Squad

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may know that I am a big fan of Donors Choose, a site that allows you to donate directly to classrooms for educational supplies. Not to brag about said Twitter followers or anything, but so far I’ve posted a total of 17 projects to Twitter and they’ve managed to successfully fund every single one. Anyway, I recently learned that Donors Choose allows you to create customized landing pages where you can mobilize any community’s efforts. And what community is more awesome than the readers of this newsletter?

Therefore, I introduce the Modern Adventuress Action Squad. Every month or so, I will hand pick a new selection of classroom projects for you to peruse and donate to, collected on one convenient page: donorschoose.org/modernadventuress. You’ll see I have half a dozen active projects listed there now. Please take a look and see if you can throw a few dollars towards one or more. As we continue and build up our numbers, we’ll be able to see exactly how much good we were able to collectively put into the world.

I tend to choose projects local to my own city of Chicago, but, since we are a wide-ranging newsletter community, I’m open to suggestions of other classrooms. If you know of one deserving of inclusion, let me know via email or Twitter.

Notes in the Margins

On fighting.

Recently one of my favorite pastimes has been filling my Netflix queue with martial arts movies. It began as an unconscious impulse. Traditionally, I’ve never been attached to the genre, although I’d never been opposed to it, either. It just happened that, as 2016 faded into 2017, I was drawn to watching people beat other people up. Elegantly, if at all possible.

I am uniquely unqualified to give any substantive opinion on the art of fighting, cinematically or not, but I’m currently attracted to its mythos. To the idea of being strong, being capable, being unafraid—or, alternatively, afraid but able to act anyway. Being in command of oneself enough to learn how to overcome an enemy. Being equal to any situation of daunting scope and uncertainty. And being so elegantly, if at all possible.

I find it interesting that in many stories about ordinary people becoming fighters or one sort or another, the majority of the story is about preparation and discipline. It’s less about violence or physical superiority in the moment as it is about the establishment of daily habits aimed at strengthening and growing. About making smart decisions in terms of self-care—not what’s easiest or feels good at the time, but what is truly best for the person in the long-term, which is sometimes difficult in the short-term.

It’s all about the long-term. It’s about lying in wait and making oneself ready.

All of this is an inelegant metaphor, and yet it’s useful to me now. I am not looking for a fight, but I wonder how many of those who have trained themselves to be fighters really are. More often, the fight comes to you, and the only choice you have is to stand or not. If my newfound movie obsession seems to point to any practical lesson, it’s that the smartest way to fight is to first conquer yourself, so that you can apply the best strategy available without the pressure of incapability, weakness or contradictory desire—and that would seem to apply whether or not the fight you are facing requires you to raise fists or raise ideas. Elegantly, if at all possible. But such questions of style, and necessity, are left up to each fighter, and even to ordinary people who are learning to be.

That’s all for today. Thank you for reading.

Find the way that works for you.



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Today’s subject line quote is from Ovid.