HEWN, No. 308

"...imaginary gardens with real toads in them..." -- Marianne Moore

I’m a day late with the newsletter. Apologies. I spent yesterday assembly IKEA furniture (again). I am good at many things, but assembling IKEA furniture is not one of them. I find the directions confusing. I find the assembly process — squatting and bending over and lifting and generally contorting my body to screw some damn screw into some poorly aligned hole — utterly exhausting. I am recovering today, with one piece of furniture still in pieces. I thought about skipping this week’s newsletter entirely, I’m so tired, but I have a few thoughts to type out before opening a bottle of wine and settling in for the evening to read my friend Tim Maughan’s new novel, Infinite Detail. That’s really the most important reading recommendation right there.

I watched the Michael Jackson documentary, Leaving Neverland, earlier this week. It was devastating, and I think one of the reasons why I’m so drained this weekend. I don’t know how one can maintain that Michael Jackson is not a pedophile. Well, that’s not quite true. I guess I can know, because for a very long time, I’ve certainly minimized the accusations of sexual assault, not wanting to believe that they were true, not wanting to have to reckon with my own MJ fandom. I grew up listening to Michael Jackson. Thriller was one of the first records I bought with my own money. One of my prized possessions is a black satin jacket from the Victory Tour. My family owned a grocery store at the time, and a Pepsi distributor gave it to my dad who gave it to me. (Shortly afterwards, Michael Jackson’s hair caught fire filming a commercial for Pepsi. So many jokes; so little reckoning.) I only wore the jacket once — to the first concert I attended. (Rick Springfield. Not The Jacksons.) I’ve kept the damn jacket all these years — one of the very few mementos from junior high I’ve hung onto — not because it was worth anything but because it felt special. It made me feel special. As I went through boxes of old photos and scrapbooks this week, still sorting out what goes where in the new apartment, I thought about Marie Kondo’s question regarding personal possessions — “does it bring you joy?” — and I felt such deep sadness. I can’t, I won’t listen to Michael Jackson’s music any more. The lyrics are all too sinister. But this jacket is a Jacksons jacket, I rationalized, and I don’t know quite what to do with all the fond memories of little Michael.

Anyway… I've read quite a few of the responses to the documentary. Slate has a whole series of articles. I like Lili Loofbourow’s best — “What Kind of Mother?” — as it gets at some of what I found most unsatisfying about the film and certainly most frustrating when I consider my own thinking in the past about Michael Jackson’s accusers.

Meanwhile: “The Making of the Fox News White House” by Jane Meyer. “Facebook’s new move isn’t about privacy. It’s about domination” by Siva Vaidhyanathan. In other domination news, plagiarism-detection company TurnItIn was acquired this week for $1.735 billion — one of the largest ed-tech acquisitions ever, for one of the most awful and exploitative ed-tech tools. TurnItIn takes the intellectual property of students (and sometimes even faculty) and sells that information back to colleges, charging them for a database — and, just as importantly, a set of pedagogical practices — that assumes that students are all cheaters and that writing instruction and writing assessment can be automated. So gross. And yet so profitable. And so very representative of the ed-tech industry.

In other ed-tech news, I got a copy of B. F. Skinner’s FBI file this week — or part of it, at least. There was no mention of pigeons. Thank goodness for HEWN, where this week’s pigeon is an Indian Fantail pigeon:

(Image credits. And more from The Washington Post on fancy pigeons.)

Yours in struggle,