Things I Read This Week #2: Scouring the Sea for Those You Love, Good and Bad Smells, and the Things Her Father Carried

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Welcome (and apologies for the unannounced break. It’s capstone season yall!) to the second “Things I Read This Week,” where I get to share the longform essays and pieces I’ve been reading this week and talk at length about things that don’t necessarily belong anywhere else on the site. Some of these will be hilarious, others will hit too close to home, and others still won’t reveal to you their true importance until they’re ready, or something like that. This week we have the search for the Ghost Boat, a Louisiana DA straight out of white supremacist hell, straight men and their desire for trans women, freelancing advice, and more.

I try to feature writing from new and familiar sites, so feel free to share your favorites with me in the comments.

“Revenge Killing”, The New Yorker

This reads like a dystopian nightmare, the kind where people in a small town see your family as animals and kill your loved ones without remorse, first responders only save the human Americans, and cities poison their residents with impunity.

There are no words to describe the blatant, dogged commitment to extermination that swirls within this story, not least the monstrous Louisiana DA who makes it his personal mission to destroy black men. A powerful, powerful story.

Not long afterward, another 911 operator called a dispatcher and asked what was happening at the address. “They probably slept on the damn baby,” the dispatcher said. “There’s a hundred folks in that damn house.”

And after the ambulance came:

The families began knocking on the windows of the ambulance, asking the driver why he hadn’t left for the hospital. The paramedics reported to their dispatcher that they were surrounded by a mob; they worried that there was going to be some sort of riot. “If the crowd gets bad, we don’t have anything—there’s no protection,” one paramedic said later. “We had to leave for our safety.” The ambulance drove away with its sirens and lights on, but switched them off as soon as it turned the corner.

“Ghost Boat”, Medium

The disappearance of 243 refugees in the Mediterranean. Countless others lost at sea, the smell of their corpses so bad it coated the water for as far as 900 meters. This ongoing series uses crowdsourced reporting that’s sucked in everyone from experts to journalism students to fishermen in Zarzis who’ve been pulling bodies out of the water in a mission to find the Ghost Boat.

By the time the third part of this series came out, the number of refugees who’d drowned between North Africa and Europe broke 3,000. It brings to us over and over again the moment refugees realize their boat is sinking. It is ever-conscious of the horror of dying at sea. And here is why this series is so important: In part 3, writer Eric Reidy finds out where the bodies of those refugees go.

Walking over the nondescript ground, I was imagining the bodies buried in piles under my feet. Those corpses had an identity—they were people. And those people had families, friends, loved ones, maybe children, who, like the Ghost Boat families, are in limbo: suspended by nagging questions.

When We Ask Straight Men About Their Desire for Trans BodiesHarlot

Not quite a long read, but an important piece on how wanting to have sex with trans women is not the same as loving them.

The camera frames a trans woman’s crotch, the narrator explains that there are men who are actually proud to hit that, and the implication is that there’s nothing normal about finding trans women fuckable. We’re a riddle. A cocktail that’s made with equal parts misogyny and gay panic. The camera puts culture several steps removed from us, and that’s the way things will remain for the foreseeable future.


For many of us, the best-case scenario is that we end up with a man who wants a trans woman because that’s what he beats off to on the Internet, because he pictures us as adhering to a strict, rigid femininity, because he expects us to be thankful for the attention.

Our Pungent History: Sweat, Perfume, and the Scent of Death, Collectors Weekly

As much as I love things that smell good (yes to peppermint plants, no to Yankee candles), I’m just as fascinated by pungent smells. I have a special place in my heart for pieces that dive into the fun and nasty carnality of the human body, such as this one.

The Freelancers’ Roundtable, Longreads

This has all sorts of detailed, insightful advice on negotiating contracts, developing and pitching stories, and revision nightmares helpful for young writers/journalists trying to break into the industry. If you want a tangible guide that keeps it real, this is a good place to start.

The Daughter, The Los Angeles Times

I came across this piece a couple of years ago, but dug it up again as guidance for a story I’m writing on how our families’ baggage affect us. It covers two important stories: It profiles a young girl who survives her father’s murder-suicide, and it touches on the larger truth of immigrant parents (my parents, your parents) who love their children to pieces, do the best they can, but still crumble under the weight.This piece resonates deeply with me because it made me reexamine my own relationship with my father, and try to understand and forgive his limitations.

The sparse, compassionate prose is exceptional and all too rare with stories about Asian families.

The Man Who Sailed His House, GQ

And now, one of my all-time favorite pieces. GQ recently reposted this piece from its archives for the 5th anniversary of the 2011 Japanese tsunami, along with the original illustrations by the award-winning Yuko Shimizu. Hiromitsu Shinkawa was rescued at sea on the roof of his house, which had been swept into the ocean in the same catastrophic rush of water that killed his wife. It’s a beautiful, epic piece that reconstructs the moment the tsunami hit to the hour Shinkawa is rescued. It nails every detail while managing to imbue the writing with a numb acceptance that everyone and everything he used to call home is gone. The writing shudders with grief and loneliness. Forgive me for quoting such huge chunks, but every sentence streams into the next:

If you could see anything in the grip of this monster, fifteen feet down, you’d see your neighbors tumbling by, as if part of the same circus. You’d see huge pieces of house—chimneys and doors, stairs and walls—crashing into each other, fusing, becoming part of one solid, deadly wave. You’d see shards of glass and splintered swords of wood. Or a car moving like a submarine. You’d see your thirty pigeons revolving in their cage. Or your wife within an arm’s reach, then vacuumed away like a small fish. You frantically flail. Is this up or down? Something is burning inside now, not desperation but blood depleted of oxygen. What you illogically desire more than anything is to open your mouth wide and gulp. You scissor your legs. In some eternity, the water turns from black to gray, and gray to dirty green, as you reach up over your head one last time and whip your arms down, shooting for the light.

This piece intrigues me because the tone is such a risk. It uses second person, a particular tone that’s part epic and part stream-of-consciousness to tell Shinkawa’s story back to him. The risk is it can sound patronizing, self-indulgent, or both, but here it reads as gut-wrenching eulogy.

This ending section kills me every time:

These are strange days, in this anonymous eight-story beige structure where, at first, you know nobody—and where the world carries on without memory, the bustle of salarymen in the stations and streets, traffic rushing somewhere. You say nothing about who you are to the neighbors but spend your time trying to keep busy, all in order to forget, too. Unbidden, you begin a daily sweeping of the walkways at the complex. You and your broom, hoping to make yourselves useful. You also try to spend time with your grandson, who is now a short commute away, but of course, mothering doesn’t come as naturally to you as it did to Yuko. And so between your parents, who sit all day watching television in sad nostalgia for everything lost, and your daughter, whose life is busy and now motherless, your displacement is complete.

I posted this roundup early to make up for being MIA, but check back next Friday for more!


Things I Read This Week #1: Pregnancy without Meds, Poison Water, PLL’s Pitfalls, If You are Mentally Ill They Will Kill You

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Welcome to the first “Things I Read This Week,” where I get to share the longform essays and pieces I’ve been reading this week and talk at length about things that don’t necessarily belong anywhere else on the site. Some of these will be hilarious, others will hit too close to home, and others still won’t reveal to you their true importance until they’re ready, or something like that. This week we’ve got the power of historical fiction, deporting undocumented veterans, pregnancy without  medication, and more.

I try to feature writing from new and familiar sites, so feel free to share your favorites with me in the comments.

“Who Tells Your Story? Historical Fiction as Resistance”
,  The Toast

I had this same thought about Toni Morrison and Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Joyce Kogawa’s Obasan and every other time we use fiction to talk about our loved ones, our dead, and collective memories that can’t be pegged to linear time because those histories are everywhere, everything, and continuous: “It stands for me as an example of storytelling as history and history as storytelling, in which the lines between fiction and scholarship are sometimes blurred in order to move closer towards truth.” Also, The Royal Diaries were my shit when I was a kid.

Heather Hogan on PLL Making a Trans Character Die,  Autostraddle

Pretty Little Liars returned on Tuesday for the five-year time jump and (spoiler alert) killed off Charlotte an episode after revealing she was a trans woman and 23 trans women (most of them black women) were murdered in the U.S. in 2015. Heather Hogan, who in my opinion is one of the most underrated cultural critics out there and a writer dear to my heart, writes a moving recap of the subversive, imperfect beacon that PLL was. Also includes a poignant matchup of where she hoped the Liars would be and where the time jump actually leaves them. They’re okay for the most part. So is Ezra (ugh) but luckily MRA Andrew seems to be out of the picture.

While you’re on AS, definitely check out her previous PLL recaps for a sometimes hilarious, always insightful queer reading of the show.

On Going Off My Depression Medication During Pregnancy Cosmo

When the most we can do for pregnant women with mental illness is tell them to go off their meds to keep their babies safe and also make them responsible for holding their personal universe together. The breathtaking pressure to perform as mother, lover, attentive friend: “None of your choices are right, including the one to get pregnant in the first place, and not only that, you will be forced to suffer for almost two years and it had better be in silence lest you disturb the fetus, the baby, your partner, or friends and family.” 

This piece reminds me of the “Post-Partum Regression” piece from The Rumpus, where meanwhile, everyone knows about post-partum depression but that visibility (and its fantasy of intimacy) has the weird effect of further erasing struggling new mothers. She calls motherhood a brown sludge that darkened as her anxiety filled her “like poison gas.” And: “We had prepared ourselves for a long night, and oh, it was long, but there was nothing that could have prepared us. By the next morning I had finally crashed back into my body and found it a battered, war-torn, exhausted and weeping shell.” 

What Did the Governor Know About Flint’s Water, and When Did He Know It? The Atlantic

The people of Flint and their children have been drinking poisoned water since 2014, and the list of people responsible keeps growing. This is America, and the National Guard has been called to give people clean water.

Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech environmental-engineering professor, found that the water had nearly 900 times the recommend EPA limit for lead particles. As my colleague Alana Semuels noted in a deeply reported feature in July 2015, residents believe the city knew about problems as soon as May 2014. Yet as late as February 2015, even after tests showed dangerous lead levels, officials were telling residents there was no threat.

Unwanted Alive Guernica

Undocumented immigrants enlist in the military and fight for the U.S., only to be deported when they’re arrested for any one of a wide range of crimes, from rape to minor offenses. I like this story because it allows a bunch of conflicting and complicated ideas to butt against each other, which is appropriate because our culture around the military and the idea of nation is itself full of conflicting and complicated ideas.

It speaks to how the U.S. government historically uses people it hates for its benefit, particularly in military service, only to turn its back on them when the war is over and they come home. How politicians and normal people will posture on patriotism and duty but ignore veterans when their PTSD leaves them unable to function. And most of all, how any of the veterans in this story can somehow be a scumbag, a victim of xenophobic and racist policies, and someone whose sacrifices we have to contend with all at once.

The veterans I spent time with weren’t angels. They had been convicted of serious and, in some cases, reprehensible offenses. But no matter what they did, they served and in some cases fought and risked their lives for the United States, just like citizens.

Stock said she is unaware of a single case in which a deported veteran successfully appealed removal and returned to the United States. Veterans have only one sure way to reenter the States legally. When they die, those not discharged dishonorably are eligible for a full military funeral in the United States.

Unwanted alive, they can return home as a corpse.

The Funny Thing About Abusive RelationshipsThe Cut

I read this and wanted to cry from the parts I recognized, like laughing at your own trauma, and also hold her:

This is certainly not the experience of every woman who ends up being “funny,” and part of the reason I think a lot of us hesitate to say so is because we don’t want to contribute to the narrative that we’re all needy or oversexed or undersexed or crazy. We are afraid you will say that about us if we don’t say it first.

In my twisted logic at the time, if I was laughing then clearly, CLEARLY, I was in control of the situation. So if he sometimes threatened to kill me or himself, I convinced myself it was my fault, because I was also drunk, because I had liked having sex with him, because I showed up at his place or texted him.

I’d absorbed the message that a “bad person” cannot be a victim and I felt I was a bad person.

In Chicago, Mental Health Workers are Armed and DangerousChicago Reader

“For those who are black and have mental illness, the odds of coming away unscathed from an encounter with police are stacked overwhelmingly against them.”

The Elderly Scenesters of ChinatownQuartz

I don’t know what it is about old people that makes everything they do 20 times better but check out this photo project on the trillest senior citizens in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
I mean:

Chinatown Pretty

What are you reading/watching/listening to this week? Let us know in the comments and check back next Friday for more things to read!


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my hands are shaky, tinged with a dash

of melanin, enough to proclaim my title
as a child of the sun

i am rooted in purple orchids
that have been grounded in the west
aching towards the east, my spine
contorted between two different sets of stars

my skin longs for better days, clearer skies
and my ancestors, they don’t recognize me anymore they
see me as a ghost, with my tongue burnt out of my mouth
all i can do is spit out ash and decay, and figure out what to do
with this grey matter that accentuates my scattered blue veins

—in-betweens (s.don)

I have always found comfort in the meaning behind words, in the form of books, poetry, or advice from my mother. The potential for one word to mean so many different things, fascinates me. I find myself up late at night, spellbound over the way a comma in a poem can mean three different things because of its placement, and two others if it wasn’t there. But sometimes, I get caught in the in-betweens. I stumble over binary arguments, whether something is this or that, and half way through my essay, I have disproved my thesis statement and I have contradicted myself. The place I find myself stuck at the most is in between Asian and American.

Continue reading “In-Betweens”

Unpacking Acceptability

RahimonNasaBy Rahima Nasa

It’s freshman year and I’m unpacking my belongings into 406 DellPlain, my new home. I brought too much stuff with me so I’m concerned about how I’m going to fit it in all my minuscule split-double. I guess it’s symbolic too since I want to be upfront with my roommate: I’m coming with a lot of baggage.

It’s the first time leaving New York City, where I was raised for most of my life. Although I was born in Bangladesh but my family moved to the U.S. when I was about four years old. I had always been jealous of my little sister for being born in America. I hated being considered an immigrant.

I resented being placed in ESL classes in elementary school solely because I wasn’t born here. This made me work a lot harder at making sure my English was perfect. I refused to speak Bengali, my mother tongue, when I could avoid it. I felt a sense of accomplishment when I finally stopped dreaming in Bengali.

Continue reading “Unpacking Acceptability”

More Than Just a Pigment


By Sue Lee | Asian Students in America

Throughout the course of my childhood I have always been subject to racism, I guess the term Asian American was foreign to Alaskans. During kindergarten, my teacher gave me detention every single day for petty reasons that all children would do. Every time I would draw myself, my peers would hand me yellow crayons and say, “you’re yellow, you need this crayon.” I would always brush it off, though. During that time I believed that I was just a bad child, but around Thanksgiving my class was prompted to draw ourselves next to a turkey. I used a beige crayon to color my skin as I have always had, and a peer, once again, gave me a yellow crayon “you’re yellow.” I was so frustrated that I went to the person who supposed to help me when I needed it: my teacher. “Mrs. OJ!” (My kindergarten teacher.) “They keep saying I’m yellow!” and the three words she would say next was supposed to change all the detentions, my self-perception that I was bad, and my peer’s opinions.

“You ARE yellow.”
Continue reading “More Than Just a Pigment”

The Price of Education


By Hugh Yang | Lambda Phi Epsilon

My parents grew up in the rural areas of China, where they spent most of their time doing agricultural work. Due to the lack of help on the farms, they gave up their education in order to cultivate crops and survive with food. Their lack of education allowed them to realize the importance of school. In order to ensure the dream of education and an improvement of lifestyle, they once again took another sacrifice, and abandoned their country, family, and culture. Their sacrifice was to ensure that my sister and I can be born in the United States, a land of opportunity and prosperity.

In the United States, my parents’ lack of education forbade them to communicate with people around them, forcing them to work in sweatshops and Chinese restaurants. Their jobs require them to work six days a week, 13 hard working hours a day. Their dedication and work took away the precious family bonding time that I never had. Since the age of 10, I had to carry the responsibility of taking care of my younger sister and writing family checks to pay off our monthly bills. As other kids left school at 3pm and headed towards the park, I had to go and pick up my sister and prepare dinner.
Continue reading “The Price of Education”

(We Know) We Can Do It!

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By Jane Hong | Student Association Vice President Elect

When I was in third grade, my teacher asked who wanted to be our class representative. My hand immediately shot up in the air at the same time as a male classmate’s. He noticed, and yelled across the classroom: “You can’t do it, you’re just a girl!”

Student government has been a passion of mine ever such a young age. I enthusiastically volunteered for any leadership opportunity and ran for Associated Student Body (ASB) and class positions throughout middle and high school. Almost every single time I campaigned, I heard racist and sexist comments: people using my racial and gender identities against me, as if those were factors that contributed to my potential to lead an organization effectively.

I threw tantrums about these comments to my teachers, to which they would usually shrug off. I clearly remember how shocked I was when my female teacher asked me to sit out a campaign once, because “ladies know how to be quiet and men know how to talk.” I was taught how to be silent before I was taught how to use my voice, and told that my gender inherently made me a follower before it could ever make me a leader.

As much as I hoped that organizing a university-wide campaign would be different, I knew that it wouldn’t be.

Continue reading “(We Know) We Can Do It!”