The Bluestocking, vol 193

They have built Bastilles of their own.

Happy Friday!

This week, I wrote about TikTok (see below) and urged America not to encourage journalists to move into politics. I also lightly broiled in my living room, much to the amusement of my family in Western Australia, where 26 degrees is considered a bit nippy.

Helen

PS. The Spark returns today at 11am on Radio 4, and afterwards on BBC Sounds.


Living With Tics on TikTok (The Atlantic)

Halfway through our conversation, Glen Cooney calls me a four-letter word often cited as the most offensive in the English language. But that’s okay. He doesn’t mean it.

Cooney has Tourette’s syndrome, which causes tics, twitches, and—in some people—a symptom called coprolalia, which the Tourette Association of America characterizes as “the involuntary outburst of obscene words or socially inappropriate and derogatory remarks.” Living with the disorder is tiring, because of both the tics themselves and the effort of trying to repress them. Coprolalia adds to the burden. Cooney, a 42-year-old who runs a window-cleaning business on the British island of Guernsey, tells me that he recently approached a woman on a mobility scooter and shouted in her face that she was lazy. Soon after that, when he saw nuns in the grocery store where his wife works, he shouted “Nuns on the run!” before observing out loud that “all priests are pedophiles.” He also tells me that has just come back from a store, where he reflexively made praying hands at a Chinese woman and said “konichiwa.” He sighs. “I know that’s Japanese, but my brain doesn’t know that.”

On Twitter, such behavior would get Cooney canceled a dozen times a day, but on TikTok, it has made him a star. 

If you want to have a fun time, try negotiating with your publication how to write “he called me a c***” in the first paragraph of a feature. (The Atlantic believes starring out swear words is mimsy and NYT-ish, but equally… no way am I writing c*** in full in an intro!) My first stab was “maybe I can say ‘a swearword so offensive it has only been printed TK times in the Atlantic” but then it turned out that the magazine of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Oliver Wendell Holmes has historically had quite the potty-mouth.

Anyway, I enjoyed writing this piece because the atmosphere on TikTok is a world away from the anxious performative piety of Twitter, and because it’s a properly nuanced situation: greater attention and exposure for people with disabilities is good, and bad, at the same time. The section on Tourette’s social contagion among teenage girls might be particularly interesting to regular Bluestockingers.


I Just Learned I Have Months To Live. Here’s What I Want To Say (Boston Globe)

EDITING THE FINAL DETAILS of one’s life is like editing a story for the final time. It’s the last shot an editor has at making corrections, the last rewrite before the roll of the presses. It’s more painful than I anticipated to throw away files and paperwork that seemed critical to my survival just two weeks ago, and today, are all trash. Like the manual for the TV that broke down four years ago, and notebooks for stories that will never be written, and from former girlfriends, letters whose value will plummet the day I die. Filling wastebasket after wastebasket is a regrettable reminder that I have squandered much of my life on trivia.

The final months would be a lot easier if I could be assured that, after death, we’d get a chance to see people who have died already. I’d like to shake hands with my best friend, my father, who died in 1972 and whom I’ve missed every day since. I owe him an apology. When I was 12, I stole 50 cents from his trousers, two quarters. The guilt was suffocating, though, and 10 days later I replaced his 50 cents, and I added an extra 25 for interest and atonement.

The only thing we argued about was politics. He was an ardent Republican. I am a boring liberal. When my son was born in 1994, the doctor held him by his ankles, upside down, as they do in movies, and announced that it was a boy. “I know that,” I said, nervously. “Is he a Democrat?”


The Barn of Drew Rueville Road (The Atlantic)

The dentist was a few minutes late, so I waited by the barn, listening to a northern mockingbird in the cypress trees. His tires kicked up dust when he turned off Drew Ruleville Road and headed across the bayou toward his house. He got out of his truck still wearing his scrubs and, with a smile, extended his hand: “Jeff Andrews.”

The gravel crunched under his feet as he walked to the barn, which is long and narrow with sliding doors in the middle. Its walls are made of cypress boards, weathered gray, and it overlooks a swimming pool behind a white columned house. Jeff Andrews rolled up the garage door he’d installed.

Our eyes adjusted to the darkness of the barn where Emmett Till was tortured by a group of grown men. Christmas decorations leaned against one wall. Within reach sat a lawn mower and a Johnson 9.9-horsepower outboard motor. Dirt covered the spot where Till was beaten, and where investigators believe he was killed. Andrews thinks he was strung from the ceiling, to make the beating easier. The truth is, nobody knows exactly what happened in the barn, and any evidence is long gone. Andrews pointed to the central rafter.

“That right there is where he was hung at.”

Apologies for the double Atlantic dose this week, but this piece on the barn where Emmett Till was murdered — and about memory, and history, and justice — is stunning. I wish I could write like this.


Quick Links

  1. Thread on why price discrimination at Disney is good, actually.

  2. “This is not some dark new age of cancel culture, however, it’s just a return to normality. Those who grew up in the late 20th century were living in a highly unusual time, one that could never be sustained, a sexual and cultural revolution that began in 1963 or 1968. But it has ended and, as all revolutionaries must do after storming the Bastille, they have built Bastilles of their own.” (Unherd)

  3. Should I be HA Lewis on book covers? Maybe, says Cameron, D.

  4. Some classic 90s Blair banter right here.

  5. “Comic book history is full of stories of writers and artists who signed meager deals only to see their creations become icons, dating back to 1938, when Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster signed away the character for $130. But it was unusual to hear Brubaker and Coates, creators at the height of their careers, speak openly about the issue.” (Hollywood Reporter)

  6. Sojourner Truth didn’t say “Aint I A Woman”.

  7. Turns out a lot more songs are cover versions than you’d think.

  8. “It’s funny to see something like [the Cummings apology statement] happen so quickly when a corporation can take up to three decades to investigate serious journalistic malfeasance and critical management failings in the Bashir investigation. So I think it’s all a question of priority, really, isn’t it?” Emily Maitlis on the BBC (Press Gazette)


Bluestocking question: I was listening to Eminem’s “Toy Soldiers” today and thinking how odd it is to write a whole song to settle some random grudges with minor rappers that most of your listeners don’t know. And then I wondered: what is the pettiest beef which has inspired great art?

I always enjoy this Mary Wortley Montagu poem where she implies that Jonathan Swift wrote “The Lady’s Dressing Room,” where he is mean about women’s bodies, because he visited a prostitute and couldn’t get it up. The 18th century really was the golden age of literary beef: just look at the Dunciad.

(My second place goes to Nora Ephron’s Heartburn.)

See you next time . . .