Emphatic Hands #8: Less Stressed

I’m gonna start cross-posting my TinyLetters because, hey, why not? Here’s the latest edition, sent out today.  You can subscribe here!

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to start regularly sending out this newsletter again. And a month into the new year, here I am, writing the first edition of Emphatic Hands in 2017. Seems about right.

I’m sure many of you have forgotten what this newsletter is about. (I think I did too.) So, here’s a refresher! In each edition, I recommend five things. Sometimes those things are related and sometimes they’re not. That’s it! Basically, this is just a space for me to share what I love with people who want to hear about that kind of thing.

This week, I’d like to share a few things that have been making me feel less stressed. I would write a whole “in these times” thing here, but we all know why everyone could feel less stressed now. So let’s just get straight to my recs!

What’s been making me feel less stressed?

Listening to A World On Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War by Amanda Foreman on audiobook.

I just finished listening to this 33-hour (it’s about 1,000 pages IRL which I know because I own a physical copy) performance of Amanda Foreman’s much-lauded history of the Civil War. Was it the most exciting book I’ve read/listened to? Certainly not. But there are so many good nuggets in it that I knew every time I put it on, even if I zoned out for a little bit, something delightful – or, in some cases, horrifying, because this was about the Civil War – would pull me back in. I recommend this audiobook particularly for commutes and listening to before bedtime.

Playing a kind of massive Brian Eno playlist on repeat.

Of all of the music I’ve gotten into as an adult (like as an actual adult in my late twenties), I’ve been most consistently rewarded by listening to and interacting with the work of Brian Eno. There’s just…so much. And it’s all…so good. I could write a lot about the many things I love about Eno or my favorite albums and songs, but I’ll save that for another time or venue. Today, I want to recommend listening to Eno as a tool for combatting bad feelings. As the father of ambient music, he has made an actual fuckload of music to chill out to. (As well as some great rock music that is just as good to chill to.) Which is why I recommend Spotify’s “This Is: Brian Eno” playlist, particularly for listening to on big headphones when you’re just trying to get your g.d. work done and people won’t leave you alone or for when you want to go on a nice walk to clear your mind.

Watching Top Chef: Charleston.

The thing about Top Chef is, now that it’s in its fourteenth season, there aren’t really too many surprises. Those of us who have watched every season pretty much know what to expect. (Padma likes spicy food! Tom hates okra! Richard Blais still shows up occasionally! Restaurant Wars! Etc.) And this is why it’s a comfort to me. There are still some surprises, like cheftestants from past seasons coming back, people behaving badly or worse than you would expect, or favored chefs stumbling on challenges you assumed they would nail. But I know that I’m going to be surprised occasionally. A that’s what I love about this show. You can expect the unexpected (but definitely also a lot of the expected). I recommend watching Top Chef: Charleston after a long day, while eating very silly food like microwaveable macaroni and cheese, or on a Saturday morning while you’re wrapped up in a blanket and drinking your coffee.

Consuming just enough news.

I can’t remember a time when there’s been this much news like, everywhere, all the time. My Facebook feed is mostly news, the New York Times sends me like 15-20 breaking news alerts every day, and even my gym, which has never before played any news channel on the TVs mounted above the treadmills, is all CNN all the time. Based on how much people have been telling me that they feel like the end of the world is nigh and that they’re constantly stressed and sick, I would like to recommend consuming just enough news to satisfy your desire to feel informed, but not so much that it’s literally making you ill. I know that everyone has a different threshold, so I’m not saying you should limit yourself to these two things only, but I have been finding that simply reading The New York Times’ “Morning Briefing” while I’m eating my breakfast and watching VICE News provides me with a decent enough overview of what’s going on in the world. And from there, I choose what other news I’d like to explore for myself instead of clicking on every link that gets thrown at me on the internet all day. (Also, I recommend just…staying away from Twitter.)

Sleeping with flannel sheets.

A lot of people don’t like flannel sheets. (Or at least it seems that way to me?) I would like to tell those people, as well as the people who simply don’t have flannel sheets, that they are missing out. If it were up to me, I would have flannel sheets on my bed all year long. In fact, I did have flannel sheets on my bed (almost) all year long from childhood until I moved into a dorm room that was not air conditioned. Anyway, my point is, flannel sheets are so cozy and waking up in flannel sheets always makes me feel happy, which makes the start to my day better, which makes me less likely to feel stressed. And thus, I recommend that everyone go out and buy a set of flannel sheets.

Friday Reads: Well-Manicured

Friday Read: “The Price of Nice Nails” by Sarah Maslin Nir

I, like everyone else on the internet yesterday, read “The Price of Nice Nails,” an extremely well-reported New York Times story on the abuse and exploitation of nail salon workers.  And I, like many people who were talking about the piece, was shocked by the details. Manicurists in the tri-state area are extremely underpaid and face ethnic discrimination. Most of the anecdotes shared by interviewed manicurists are upsetting to read, whether or not you’re a person who regularly gets their nails done in a salon.

A lot of the discussion I’ve seen following “The Price of Nice Nails” has centered on how to support nail salon workers now that their labor conditions have been exposed to the greater (New York Times-reading) population. I read one comment that suggested the only responsible way for people to react is to do their nails at home, unless they could afford to tip 100%. This made me feel conflicted.

my last gel manicure

my last gel manicure

I get my nails done, if not regularly, then semi-regularly. I’m impatient when it comes to performing any sort of beauty routine – I can barely stand spending ten minutes applying minimal makeup each morning – and my nail painting skill level has never risen above kinda shitty. I love having nice nails and I don’t want to do them myself. I also love the experience of getting a manicure. That’s why I spend around $40 – including tip – for a gel manicure at a fancy-ish chain of salons in North Brooklyn every month or six weeks. Every time I get my nails done, I tip 20%. I know that’s not generous, but I thought it was perfectly acceptable. I can afford to spend $40 on my nails once a month. I cannot afford to spend twice – well, a little less than – that once a month. I wondered if I should, in fact, give up this small luxury.

Sarah Maslin Nir, the author of the article, also published this: “3 Ways to Be a Socially Conscious Nail Salon Consumer.” She suggests that the next time you go to a nail salon, you interview your manicurist, look for a timecard system, and pay (not necessarily tip) more. That seems fair enough to me.

Part 2 of the series, called Unvarnished, was published today. “Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers” will be something I read later today. I was also interested in how this all came to be, so I read this interview in the Times with Sarah Maslin Nir, as well as this interview on Vice.


What else did I read this week? (And last week, since I neglected to post last week.)

Another story that made me feel conflicted, “Welcome to Pariahville” is about a community of sex offenders in Florida. (GQ)

This, on ZPM Espresso, a Kickstarter project that failed to launch. (NYT Magazine)

Emily Nussbaum on Amy Schumer’s “raucous feminism.” (The New Yorker)

Sheila Heti’s short story, “My Life Is A Joke” (The New Yorker)

Alana Massey on “The Dickonomics of Tinder” (Matter)

An interview with one of my favorite musicians of late, Mitski. (The Cut)

Brendan O’Connor on “The Mysterious Persistence of the Cronut” (NYT Magazine)

“Split Image,” about the hidden life of Madison Holleran, the Penn athlete who committed suicide last year (ESPN)


I continue to read Kate Bolick’s Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, but I keep getting hung up on the fact that she never really seemed to be alone? Like, she always has boyfriends, even though she doesn’t really want them. I don’t know. The book is about more than her own life and I’m interested in what she has to say about her “spinster” role models, so I’m going to try to dive back in this weekend and reserve judgment for after I’ve finished (if I do).

I also just purchased People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished From the Streets of Tokyo – and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up by Richard Lloyd Parry. This was my own pick for book club this month, so I’m hoping it’s as good as everyone says it is. (It was on this Oyster list of the 100 Best Books of the Decade So Far.)

Reading Week: Secret Histories

I’ve been ambivalent about writing about what I read here because a part of me feels like there isn’t a huge audience who wants to read about what I read, while another part of me feels like there isn’t a huge audience who wants to hear about what I read IRL (so why not just write about it and find some other people to talk about it with IRL?). But, after reading this piece by Adam Gopnik, Why Teach English?”, about why we have and need to have English majors, I realized I’m writing about (and should write about) what I read because I like it and want to share it. SO, here’s a little more of me sharing what I’ve been reading…

200 pages into The Secret History and I am now a convert to “The Cult of Donna Tartt”. I started it on Sunday and since then, I’ve wondered how I’ve never read this book before probably 100 times. Obviously, it has all of the things I would ever want in a novel, including a college campus setting, a murder mystery, and lots of Classical Studies discussions. I’m not nearly finished yet, so we’ll see if this lives up to my expectations. I’ve been enjoying this reading experience a lot more than my experience reading Seraphina, which I finished over the weekend. For a young adult fantasy novel that heavily features dragons, I was not as engaged as I thought I would be. However, by the end I was a little attached to the main character so I wouldn’t rule out reading the sequel when it’s published.

In terms of nonfiction, I read a lot of profiles this week. Here they are, in the order I read them, I guess:

– There was the New York Times profile of Mandy Patinkin from last week’s magazine. Thankfully, it included my favorite Mandy Patinkin story. (“During a Broadway concert, to highlight the troubles in the Middle East, he ended the show by propping Israeli and Palestinian flags on a table and singing the Israeli national anthem in Hebrew, followed by an angry version of “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” from “South Pacific.” Then the flags were knocked on their sides while the pianist slammed the keys to sound like an explosion. Patinkin followed that with “Children Will Listen” from “Into the Woods.”)

– Then I reread the New Yorker profile of Dr. Oz after that horrific accident on 6th Avenue. (In case you didn’t hear about it, he helped the victim of the accident.) I had forgotten how much he and his wife discuss reiki in this piece.

– I also read the New York Times profile of Li Na from the magazine this weekend because I was way excited about the start of the US Open and I was halfheartedly doing work at a coffee shop and needed a big distraction.

– And this wasn’t really a profile, but it kind of was, but there was an interesting piece called “Cooking with Daniel” in the New Yorker a few weeks ago that I just got around to reading. Bill Buford cooked three “classic” French dishes with Daniel Boulud. Boulud’s personal history, the history behind the dishes and the writing are all fantastic.

I also have been working my way through Stereogum’s ranking of every single Neil Young album. There are a lot of them and, yeah, some of them are shit. But I definitely identify with the author when he says, “I am, and shall always be, a Neil Young apologist.”

Friday Roundup

Oh man! This week. It was a short week, but a long week. And a cold week. I don’t even remember what I did this week, other than eat everything edible that I encountered and read the following things:

The Rules of the Game: A Century of Hollywood Publicity (The Virginia Quarterly Review)

Anne Helene Petersen – who writes Scandals of Classic Hollywood for The Hairpin, which I very much enjoy – explores the evolution of Hollywood publicity. (If you read this and then fall into the deep, dark hole of Wikipedia articles about old Hollywood stars, call me. I had a similar experience.)

Family Full of Pretty Good Skiiers (The New York Times)
Reading this made me think about how it’s probably every yuppie parent’s dream to have a brood of athletic (or whatever, really) phenoms and at least one person is going to read this article and move their family to a remote compound where they practice fencing for hours on end, expecting results and success without realizing that they’re going to be unfulfilled by living vicariously through their children and also pretty disappointed when at least one of their kids sucks. Anyway, it seems that ‘the Skiing Cochranes’ happened pretty accidentally and that’s cool.

Why You Never Leave High School (New York Magazine)
Haha! So this is why I felt really emotional while listening to Rilo Kiley’s The Execution of All Things? (I don’t feel like I have to justify it – the act of listening to The Execution of All Things – but the reason I did is that I read about someone having a tattoo of the cover, which I now wish I had thought of doing while I was a teenager.)

How Lives Begin (The Awl)
Read this. I thought it was neat.

The McDonald’s at the Center of the World (The Awl)

This is fun. And really made me regret not getting a McHomard while I was on my food tour of Montreal.

And finally, OMG, I don’t even care if this is a duet and it’s for someone else’s album, a new song featuring Joanna Newsom:

Friday Roundup: A Few From the Vault

I caught up on a LOT of reading during the past week or so, mostly because of the Thanksgiving holiday. I spent the better part of two days reading every single magazine that I had missed during this very busy month and it was great. Anyway, just a warning that some of the below is kind of old…

– I loved this piece on the Grateful Dead and their legacy that was in The New Yorker last week SO SO much. (However, I assume that if you were never into them, this article probably won’t seem quite as wonderful as I’m telling you it is?)

– Also enjoyable, from the same issue of The New Yorker, is this thing on the work of Ryan Murphy. It really made me want to re-watch season 1 of Popular, but not season 2.(Also, HAHA “Queer Eyes, Full Hearts”.)

– OMG, also! If you still have the November 19th issue of TNY…please read Roger Angell’s heartbreaking (and relatively short) piece on what the dead don’t know. And the Kid Rock profile.

– Everyone should drink a ton of coffee, apparently. (The Atlantic)

– And here are the 10 Best Books of 2012, according The New York Times. (I have only read one, Bring Up the Bodies, and it was incredible and deserves all of the praise that’s been heaped on it.)

– On the heels of reading like 47 reviews of Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree, I read this NYT Magazine article on ‘The Autism Advantage’.

– Jenny Slate was on the Yo, Is This Racist? podcast this week so you should listen to it. Yay!

– This is fun: Susan Rice, Condi Rice…How Can Important People Have the Same Last Name? (The Awl)

– And finally, this important question was posed in laaaast week’s NYT Magazine: What Brand is Your Therapist? (Mine is NOT a digital-media navigator because if she were, I would be much better at blogging.)

OK, I’m done. Have a great weekend everyone!