NTMP 99: Material Hoe
Calling all birds to the courtesy phone
New-To-Me Phrases, February 4, 2024
Footlong cookie * Conceptual hoe * Tardy to the party * Hutong * Conflict profiteers * Nutso buttso
The Phrases, With Context
This week, we have a dream of cookies reaching to the moon, invisible implements, another cool public art phone, and more.
But first: January Poll Results
Whippin’ shitties had a clear lead as the favorite phrase from January. Shoutout to whoever voted for dumpy golf priss, though. We stan David Roth 4eva.
Speaking of whippin’ shitties, my pal Liz Bayan, who also loves the tragically cancelled show Our Flag Means Death, made this for me after reading the NTMP edition about whippin’ shitties where I also bemoaned the premature demise of OFMD:
And now you get to revel in its glory, too. Follow Liz on Instagram; they are building a vibrant artist community, and I learn a lot reading and hearing their thoughts about being a professional artist.
1. Footlong cookie
What a concept! My husband and one of my daughters (who does not read this newsletter) came home from Subway with one of these cookie innovations. I did not measure it to confirm that it was indeed a foot long, but it smelled great. In fact, footlong cookies are so popular right now that Subway is struggling to keep up with demand.
I thought it tasted fine; nothing really special, almost too much going on flavor- and additive-wise, as is common with fast food products. If Subway makes their oatmeal cookies into a footlong, I will be first in line trying to buy enough to reach the moon. According to NASA’s SpacePlace, that’s 238,855 miles away, or
19,905 feet (edited to add: I forgot to update this number because I couldn’t figure out how to calculate it! It should read: 1,261,154,400 feet. That’s a LOT of cookies!).
2. Conceptual hoe
I found several cool phrases in this very long fascinating piece about preserving and repurposing corporate complexes shared by Anne Helen Petersen in a recent Sunday links roundup.
But conceptual hoe stood out:
To separate the building’s new uses, OMA carved a series of five atriums out of the building’s facade — a process that the firm imagined, in a photo-illustration, as piercing the building with a giant rake. In the gouges left by that conceptual hoe, the designers collaged in different types of symbolic abundance: a run of glitter, stripes of cauliflower and tomatoes, a river of stone and a literal river.
Other cool shit in this piece:
Metroburb - A mixed-use corporate hub and community (ideally not just a bougie company town - link to a PBS series about company towns as extensions of slavery)
Pastoral capitalism - (Link to NYT op-ed by landscape architect Louise Mozingo) Suburban corporate landscapes that were historically designed as islands unto themselves, with no connection to nearby homes or other amenities, or to public transportation. Mozingo wrote a book about it that I’d like to read, and she advocates for transforming these corporate islands into places that better integrate into communities.
3. Tardy to the party
Last year was a rough year for me; it started with us getting COVID for the first time and ended with the death of my mom during home improvement shitshow. Toward the end of the year, I decided that it was time to stop putting my own writing aside because my life is too big and messy. My life has been big and messy for decades. Maybe part of me likes it that way, maybe part of this is just luck of the draw. Regardless, not doing a thing I love dearly because I’m tired or there’s no time or I need to hustle to earn more or I’m having yet another orthopedic surgery or or or . . . is not helping me at all.
One of the things I did in service of my decision to take my personal writing seriously again was to sign up for Writing the Personal Essay, a six-week class run by my friend and colleague Amy Paturel. This course is SO. GOOD. Thanks to Amy’s guidance, my brain is now lit up like a fireworks display full of essay ideas. I am so glad I did this and am excited to see where I can take all of these ideas and new writing practices.
And now for the phrase: One of the students in my essay class posted an assignment late while describing herself as “always tardy to the party.” I really loved that. This phrase should go on an ADHD crest made by someone with design skills (not me), along with a prescription bottle, a “past due notice”, a pile of papers/laundry, a fidget spinner, a brain with a tornado inside it, and a megaphone, because we can’t always moderate our volume.
What else should be on the ADHD crest?
A hutong is a narrow residential street or alleyway in China that connects homes and businesses to each other. This feels like a bit of an oversimplification; hutongs are rich in culture and community, with food carts and other vendors, openings to shared courtyards, and entrances to individual living spaces often open to the street. Some are hundreds of years old.
I discovered this word in this piece about modern architecture, where I learned that many hutongs on Beijing were demolished to prepare for the Olympics. But some hutongs have been preserved as historical sites. Here’s an explainer that links to posts about several hutongs that are still extant in China.
5. Conflict profiteers
This is one of the very best phrases that describes our current political climate. I am going to start using immediately.
It was shared via the centrist political site Starts With Us:
As Debilyn Molineaux put it: “Blame is one of the tools used by conflict profiteers. My initial thought was your survey could actually cause a deepening of sentiment that there is someone or some group to blame.”
Link to the full post, which I recommend reading to see how they’re at least making an effort to understand and be understood.
Conflict profiteers on the right are manufacturing culture wars about everything from non-existent classroom litter boxes to TayTay rigging the Super Bowl to masking during COVID waves to the right for trans people to exist. On the left (and right) there’s anti-vaxx dis/misinformation resulting in a resurgence of measles, a disease that is debilitating when it’s not deadly, and was essentially eradicated before the anti-vaxx movement.
This manufactured-conflict-for-profit model is causing real, deep, lasting harm and in some cases, death. I believe deeply in working to create something better for us to pay attention to and to give credence to.
Starts With Us frequently annoys me because centrism often erases harms to marginalized communities. I keep reading it because I want to learn and grow and keep an open mind and because I care deeply about healing the divide in our country that literally threatens our already deeply flawed democracy. I want to live outside of my own progressive bubble—a bubble made less pliable by social media algorithms—without being scolded for not "reaching across the aisle” to those who are acting in bad faith.
Michael Hobbes, co-host of two of my favorite podcasts, said it really well recently on BlueSky:
Starts With Us appears to be acting in good faith, and I’m interested in being a part of those types of conversations.
In a great chewy conversation this weekend with my amazing friend Kelly, who writes, I described myself as an optimist with a strong realist bent. I refuse to believe that nothing can be done, that what we do as individuals and collectives don’t matter, or that we cannot achieve a society built around communities of care. I will never stop advocating for better for all of us, and especially for our future generations.
So while I will always point out a false equivalency in discourse about “both sides,” I do want discourse to happen. Today’s Culture Study newsletter about magical secret trails and broader community spaces fromhit on this perfectly:
These not-so-secret trails feel like as good a metaphor as any for community. It’s complicated by tensions between public and private, between the wants of the individual and the needs of the collective and the maxims of capitalism. It needs continued work to feel safe. Sometimes it’s soggy and feels like a maze and other times there are rays of slanting light that take your breath away. There’s no precise map. The only way you can find it is by putting yourself out there or putting in the time.
I think a lot about the ways we explicitly and implicitly gatekeep various communities: by when and where we schedule meetings, whether children are welcome or accommodated, how people are thinking about accessibility and Covid precautions, how the group itself is advertised or promoted, whether there are membership dues or requisite volunteer hours, whether dissent is tolerated or frowned upon, the list goes on. Communities have to be constantly working on these things — and widening or eliminating the gates — if they want to grow and evolve.
I want to be constantly working on these things with my community. I want us to be able to see our shared humanity again. I also want to fight like hell for the right for my queer children to exist as they are, and for women to have bodily autonomy, and for libraries and mutual aid and universal healthcare and public lands and universal basic income and free public education and voting rights reform and campaign finance reform and a strong social safety net and reparations and “land back” and abolishing prisons.
Much of this work will require a reckoning with our colonialist past of genocide and land theft and slavery, and plantation owners not wanting to pay taxes OR pay for their dehumanizing stolen labor that led to the Civil War and its aftermath, with virulent ripple effects we still live with today. We need to talk about it. We need to reckon with it. We need to learn how to listen to each other. And we so still need to shun some bad faith behaviors by conflict profiteers in favor of good faith hard work that prioritizes the honesty and vulnerability required to build strong communities.
These things may not happen in my lifetime, but I still think that they are possible for us. I think most people would agree that prioritizing billionaires and shareholders and people who are getting rich off of tricking us into hating each other is not working. So why not try something else?
Thanks for coming to my democracy talk. I always want to hear what you think about these things.
6. Nutso buttso
Another rhyming phrase that’s just fun to say and perhaps useful in the future? Why not? This one came from Mercury Stardust, aka The Trans Handy Ma’am, on Insta. I found this entire post about neurodivergent tape measures so useful and compassionate. I did not know such a thing existed, mostly because I am not a woodworker. Check out Mercury’s book, Safe and Sound: A Renter-Friendly Guide to Home Repair.
1. Another cool pay phone public art project!
Recently I wrote about a pay phone that plays jokes. Then my friend Meghan sent me a Reel about this pay phone in Takoma Park, Maryland that makes BIRD CALLS. I very much want to install a pay phone that plays something fun in my town now; maybe one that plays Simpsons quotes. Here’s a longer write-up about the BIRD CALLS phone.
2. A marital mea culpa
My husband was EXTREMELY amused to remind me that he and I did NOT visit Roslyn, Washington on our honeymoon. Roslyn is the town that served as stand-in for fictional Alaskan town Cicely, Alaska in the ‘90s show Northern Exposure—which I’m happy to say, mostly holds up.
Turns out I went there with our friend Kelly D. a couple of months before my husband and I met. So now when we watch Northern Exposure, he says things like, “Remember when you went there? With SOMEBODY ELSE?” He has this way of teasing me that makes me laugh until my abs hurt. This is what happens when you’re happily married for decades; you just assume your person was with you during the high points of your life. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.