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MIT blogger Caroline P. '23

Media That Makes Me Feel Okay by Caroline P. '23

School's out! Time to get distracted :D

(A quick note before I start this post: My intro would be kind of confusing if I didn’t tell you that I made the last-minute decision to move back to my hometown for the summer. For those who’ve been following my blogs, I actually moved to Maine with some friends when we first got kicked out of MIT. I’m in the process of writing a blogpost about this transition and my reasoning behind it, but it’s a little long and a little heavy. I wanted to post something lighter before I go into all of that. Enjoy <3)

So, the MIT school year just ended, and it’s probably coming to a close for all you high school students out there. Maybe summer usually makes you excited, and maybe it still makes you excited even though, like, everything is shut down. If so, that’s awesome! But maybe you’re like me, and you’ve always hated summer and the fact that we have to social distance just multiplies the usual dread you feel around the beginning of June. I always felt super weird explaining why I hated summer to other kids at my high school. No one else seemed to really get it, that reaching out to friends was hard for me, that I’m inclined to fall back into bed around 2 PM and not get out, that there was less to distract me from the more sensitive parts of myself. It feels kind of weird to mention this, but this summer will actually be the first one since my freshman year of high school where I’ll be single (probably. I highly doubt I’ll meet anyone in the next three months). It’s not like “omg I need a lady to complete me”, it’s more like “wow, I’m really out here solo, aren’t I?”. I don’t have a lot of friends back here in Milwaukee; I’m gonna be spending a lot of time alone. That’s a little scary.

On the other hand, I’m gonna have an amount of time with myself that I haven’t had in years. This could be a great opportunity for some good ol’ thinking… or maybe just some good ol’ distraction. Hence, my media list! The stuff below is the kind of entertainment that makes me feel alive. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good mindless reality TV series, but I don’t think I’m going to make it through the next few months if I don’t give my brain something to gnaw on. So with that preface, here it is:

***Overall Disclaimer: anything that I put a “*” next to denotes a piece of media I would consider to be a little more adult for containing strong language, handling mature themes, having sexual/drug/alcohol references, etc. Some of videos and music I’ve directly embedded will include small amounts of some of these elements; for those clips I’ve added content notes to warn you in advance. I really stand behind all of the media on this list, and I trust you to make the best choices for yourself when it comes to your own media consumption.***

The tl;dr version (lots of links and videos below if you want to sample some of this stuff):

  • Books: Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion, Blue Nights by Joan Didion, Caffeine by Michael Pollan (Audible Original), The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, more books by Joan Didion, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • Albums: Making a Door Less Open by Car Seat Headrest*, Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae*, Blue by Joni Mitchell
  • Singles: “Sorry Bro (I Love You)” by Dorian Electra, “Dreamland” by Glass Animals, “Cop Car” by Mitski
  • TV Shows: The Midnight Gospel* (disclaimer for cartoon violence), BoJack Horseman* (disclaimer for mature themes and sexual references), Project Runway

Part I: Books

Books I’ve read:

  • Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion: This is Didion’s signature collection of essays from the 1960’s, including everything from the profile of John Wayne, to the story of a housewife who may or may not have murdered her husband, to a deep analysis the counter-cultural hippie movement. Jesus, the way this woman describes things is just… mesmerizing, almost to the point of heartbreak. If you like non-fiction storytelling or profile pieces, this is an absolute must-read. If you can only bring yourself to read one essay, I included a PDF and audio version of the title essay, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”, below. Didion dove head-first into the hippie community in and around Haight-Ashbury to capture not only an iconic cultural moment, but what that moment said about the larger American society of the 1960’s. Let me tell you: she found some wild stuff.

PDF: https://nstearns.edublogs.org/files/2012/03/Slouching-toward-bethlehem-184kxww.pdf

  • Blue Nights by Joan Didion: Written about 40 years after the publishing of Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Didion explores the nuances of both aging and motherhood through the lens of her daughter’s death. It’s deeply sorrowful, but one of the things that Didion does best it allow people to see the experiences of many through her specific case. I’ve never read anything that made me consider the fragility, the fight for independence,  or the massive amount of grace and acceptance that comes with aging. It exposed me to a whole new perspective on the cycle of life.
  • Caffeine by Michael Pollen (Audible Original): So, I’m addicted to coffee. The taste, the smell, the act of filling my moka pot with espresso grinds in the morning and hand-frothing my milk while I listen to it brew on the stovetop: It’s sublime. Caffeine is a relatively short (about a 3 hour listen) exploration of the power that caffeine, especially in the form of coffee, has had over the course of human history. I’m not even that into history, but it was a really engaging and often humorous listen.

Books I’m reading now:

  • The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion: Are you seeing a trend yet? I can’t get enough of this woman’s writing. This one is her other signature works, written only a few years before Blue Nights. In 2003, Didion’s husband suddenly died of a cardiac event while they were having dinner together. The book documents the year after his death, learning to deal not only with her grief but the rapidly deteriorating health of her daughter (the daughter, Quintana, actually died after Didion published The Year of Magical Thinking. Reading this and Blue Nights in tandem is, uh, rough to say the least). Not gonna lie, I’ve developed a real attachment to this book. I find that even though Didion’s story is uniquely horrible, she says something universal about the nature of loss. This book speaks to me as I deal with all the ramifications that this pandemic has had on my life. I feel understood when I read it.
  • The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan: A classic. The spark that lit the flames of second-wave feminism. I won’t lie to you: It’s pretty dense. But it’s also an absolutely stunning feat of research, journalism, determination, and intelligence. Friedan essentially saw through the freakin’ Matrix of her time. When the world told women their only role was in the home, she dared to respond with “I don’t believe you” and an incredible body of work to back her up. 

Books I plan to read:

  • The rest of Joan Didion’s work: lol I can’t stop myself
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: I never got around to this one in middle school or high school, and it would be nice to read a little fiction. No time like the present?

Part II: Music

Albums:

  • Making a Door Less Open by Car Seat Headrest*: This one came out only a few months ago! If you like some semi-angsty alternative rock, definitely check this out. My favorite tracks: “Can’t Cool Me Down”, “Deadlines (Hostile)”, “Hollywood”*, and “Martin”.
  • Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae*: Listen, I know I’m late to the trend, but jesus her music is so good. I don’t really like pop music, but every song on this album is a total bop. As someone who felt like a total weirdo in high school, I really appreciate her whole “fuck you, I’m fabulous” vibe. Bonus points because the music goes to a short film she released for FREE on Youtube, also called Dirty Computer, which I’ve embedded below. Favorite tracks: “Pynk”*, “Don’t Judge Me”*, “Crazy, Classic, Life”*, and “Make Me Feel”*.
  • Blue by Joni Mitchell: This time I’m about 50 years late to the trend, so you can judge me for not being born sooner. Fun fact: Blue is widely considered one of the best albums of all time; it’s #30 on the Rolling Stones list of the 500 best albums ever made. If you like some acoustic guitar vibes, amazing ballads, and ridiculously beautiful lyrics, hit this one up. As someone who writes songs, I take a huge amount of inspiration from Mitchell :). Favorite tracks: “Blue”, “California”, “River”, “All I Want”.

Singles:

  • “Sorry Bro (I Love You)” by Dorian Electra: Hooollllllyyy shit. Dorian, my dude, you gotta stop doing this to me. They just released this short single, and not only does it totally slap, but it makes me laugh every time I listen to it. They really like to make fun of toxic masculine attitudes towards homosexuality in their music with that signature over-the-top flair. They made one public statement about the single: “Sometimes you realize you’re just in love with one of your bros”. Groundbreaking. Someone save my soul. The music video is below. (content note: includes non-sexual shirtless-ness with female-presenting nipples covered with tape)
  • “Dreamland” by Glass Animals: Super nostalgic track, and it teased album release in July (!!!). It represents a subtler version of their kinda trippy style. Bonus points for a really good music video, included below.
  • “Cop Car” by Mitski: Biiiiiiig spooky vibes. I love music that doesn’t sound like anything I’ve heard before, and this track definitely fits the bill. She actually wrote it for a horror movie, and it’s got this sort of anxious off-kilter rock n’ roll feel. I can’t really describe it, just give it a listen.

Part III: TV Shows

  • The Midnight Gospel*: The first season of this animated show came out pretty recently on Netflix.  Basically the creator of Adventure Time heard a podcast called The Duncan Tussle Family Hour and decided to animate over some of the most philosophical episodes. It’s. A. Ride. Disclaimers for frequent cartoon violence. The clip included below doesn’t have any of the violence, but I think it captures the attitude of the show pretty well! (content note: brief drug reference)
  • BoJack Horseman*: You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be like “Oh, yikes, make better choices”. If you ever wanted to see an ex-celebrity horse battle depression with a cast of equally-complex wacky sidekicks, this show is for you! The final season of this show wrapped up a few months ago, so I’m re-watching it. Disclaimer for many, many mature themes (like, all the mature themes). PG scene included below.
  • Project Runway: pReTtY cLoThEs :DDDDDDD. Disclaimer for being TOOOOOO FABULOUS. If you don’t know what this is, just watch the clip below. It’s all you need to know. 

Ok, that was long. That should keep you busy for a while if you’re interested! It’s keeping me busy anyways. Happy consuming y’all :).