HEWN, No. 282

Never trust the Wikipedia entries for my family members

It’s another abbreviated newsletter this week — my apologies — as I am traveling in Scotland with my mum. We’re revisiting places she hasn’t been in decades and decades — in some cases, since childhood. My aunt and uncle (her younger brother, that is) joined us for a few days on our trek around the Highlands, and it was strange to watch the two of them retrace the settings for some of the oft-told stories of their youth — the fishing trips on which their father (Wikipedia) had brought them north to Cape Wrath, for example.

My mum remembers (age 10 or so) eating six Tunnock’s teacakes and feeling quite ill on the bus from the train station at Lairg. She caught a trout on that trip, she says, too small to keep or eat, but she refused to throw it back and kept it in the wash basin in her room.

The family has told the stories from these vacations in Scotland for years — the knitted bathing suit and my uncle’s near-death experience (age 3) on the railway turntable in Rosemarkie. But as we drove through hills and over bridges, my mum and uncle squinted and hesitated and had to admit several times that perhaps the “what” and the “where” were different than what they recalled. (There was never a railway station in Rosemarkie, the villagers told us.)

If I were a good newsletter writer, I’d be able to weave all this personal reflection into this week’s missive — something about the failures of recollecting and the power of inventing and insisting what happened. I’m sure there’s a good tie-in to what happened this week in politics and in tech. But I’ve been barely paying attention to “the news” — truly one of the great joys of being out of the US, in a different time zone, with limited access to the Internet. I don’t wake up to Trump tweets. I’m paying attention to my mum and trying to unwind some of those tales.

I did tune in to the awfulness of online enough to read and recommend a few smart things: “The Absurdist Spectacle of the Nike Boycotts” by Hannah Giorgis. “The Anonymous New York Times Op-Ed and the Trumpian Corruption of Language and the Media” by Mashan Gessen. Hallie Lieberman wrote about the police shooting of a queer student at Georgia Tech: “The Trigger Effect.” Sam Tanenhaus profiled two of the scariest siblings alive today: Betsy DeVos and Erik Prince.

So yes, despite being on vacation, I did work. A little. You can read my round-up of this week’s education news, I suppose. Or you can listen to my guest appearance on the latest episode of the So We’ve Been Thinking podcast (released not recorded this week), in which I rant about B. F. Skinner, behaviorism, surveillance, and the fantasies we concoct about ed-tech — the promises of technological efficiency, for example, and how it will transform “women’s work.” (But never students’ work. Odd that.)

Speaking of work, the updated Busytown includes bitcoin miners and mansplainers. (There are no jobs for female animals in Busytown, it seems, as this Scarry capitalist, cannibalistic dystopia continues to get nastier. It’s worth recognizing when the stories we tell children are just that.)

Yours in struggle,