Postcard: Summer, 2015

Hello friend:

Summer is perhaps, maybe, sadly…ending. As I write this, we are both returning from adventures that took us far away from home, with new appreciation for our beds, personal space and the English language.

I missed you—which is weird, because we don’t actually live in the same place. We are always apart. But summertime is different. I was out of the country, with limited Wi-Fi. You were in a Californian land of magical thinking, surrounded by lovely loonies who jammed the Golden Gate Park airwaves with Instagrams and Snaps.

dancing guyWe were unplugged.

I’ve been taking long, mulit-phase flights since I was very young, and I believe that there is something perfect and sacred about intercontinental travel. I’m not nearly so high-powered that I must be ever-available by email, and hovering thousands of miles above Earth strikes me as the best possible excuse for staying offline. Airline Internet isn’t strong enough to stream my shows anyway. (I did manage to watch the first three episodes of Playing House, season two on the tarmac.)

This summer vacation—though frustratingly truncated due to grown-up work schedules—I let go of my absolute compulsion to catch up and keep up with everything and everyone. But also, time away made me realize what I miss when it’s gone. Like always having you one text away. Here are all the things I wanted to share in real-time over the past few weeks:

I finally read Erik Larsen’s Dead Wake from cover to cover, and rediscovered a debilitating fear of the open sea. A recurring drowning-while-trapped-underwater nightmare that started when I first saw Titanic came back with full force, and I was like, this is what you get for reading gripping nonfiction about events that precipitated U.S. entry into the first World War, you raging nerd. That guy who plays the captain of the Titanic (and also the creepy possessed king in The Lord of the Rings movies) was there.

I JUST REALIZED that Anna Chlumsky of Veep is grown-up Vada from My Girl!!!!

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I listened to season one of Mystery Show while we drove around the countryside, and I’m pretty sure Starlee Kine is the greatest. I would happily make her voice my ringtone. How does podcast-funding work? Who is paying for Starlee’s gold-star, all-access meet-and-greet ticket to see Britney Spears? Should I just keep texting Starlee and Ira Glass five and ten dollars when they tell me to? Or maybe listen to Startup? I am intrigued by this business model.

I brought corn on the plane. Customs officials were not amused.

Finally watched Page One: Inside The New York Times on the train. Maybe I should read The New York Times more. Maybe I should get my own digital subscription. Maybe my office pays for that, actually…

Did you listen to the “Siblings” episode of Death, Sex and Money? My dad told me stories today about hiking the Himalayas with his brothers. Getting into fights, and then—hours later—peeing into bottles while storms howled outside their tent, and sharing a single sleeping bag for warmth. Sort of similar to rooming with Karoline in San Francisco, yes? Everyone should call their sisters and brothers right now and tell them that they’re the worst, but you love them anyway. [Karoline, return my texts.] There is something incredibly romantic and soothing about Anna Sale’s voice.

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Stop that, Gina Rodriguez. You deserve all the Emmys. I realize I’m 2.5 years behind you on this—Jane The Virgin is popcorn candy delicious funny. The CW: this is the best thing you have done since Veronica Mars.

DON’T WORRY. I traveled thousands of miles to a foreign country, and immediately found a hipster coffee shop that sells homemade granola, chocolate bars with 100% cacao and an adorable barista that I’ll call Fernando. He personally toured me around their chocolate-making operation. I’ve obviously returned every morning since.

Go Set A Watchman–what Roxane Gay said.

So, listen. I promise to be in touch now that I’m back. I’m working, easing back into my routine and waiting for autumn. Fall is actually my favorite season—a sentiment shared by everyone who has ever lived in (and loved) Chicago. September and October is gorgeous in Chicago. I hope that DC reflects some of that beauty.

Tell me about your summer soon, okay? You’re my fave.

–Elise

Clear as Day

As a gal with thirteen years of Catholic education under my belt, I strongly believe that the best application of modern religion is that which brings the most good into the world while interfering least in others’ choices. If HBO’s most recent documentary Going Clear is to be believed, Scientology does precisely the opposite.

Going Clear, based on Lawrence Wright’s investigative book of the same name, features interviews with former members of the Church, some of whom left as recently as 2013. The previous practitioners had strong reasons for their entrée into the church. Early levels of Scientology employ techniques similar to psychology, and this pseudo-therapy provided immense relief and support in their time of need. Makes complete sense. But, as individuals progress toward Clear status (Scientology’s equivalent of being “saved”), the Church starts to use members’ confessions as blackmail and introduces a creation myth involving Xenu and disembodied alien spirits, so…

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The survivors detail their gradual disillusionment in the face of negativity, paranoia, and abuse. There are terrible stories from the days of founder L. Ron Hubbard—but the real horrors start with the reign of current Chairman, David Miscavige. The man allegedly beat up on lower and upper level officers of the church—those he supposedly most trusted. He reportedly held members captive in a prison camp of his own design, and then forced them into a twisted game of musical chairs. The prisoners were so far into brainwash territory they willingly played so they could be allowed to stay locked up, rather than leave the Church.

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Those hoping for a deeper dive into Scientology’s celebrities may be disappointed, though both John Travolta and Tom Cruise’s involvement are addressed. Miscavige and Cruise come off as hilariously obsessed with each other.

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Yeah, we’re mugging, but we wish it was cool for us to hold hands.

Producing this film is a risk for HBO—just as publishing the book was a risk for Lawrence Wright.  Scientology has been known to personally attack critics of the institution. Marty Rathbun, a former senior executive of the church, and his now-wife were harassed for years by camera-wielding Scientologists. When the IRS tried to collect a billion dollar back tax from the church, members sued individual employees of the government agency. The IRS was so overwhelmed by the suits, they forgave the debt, and declared Scientology a religion. THEY BULLIED THE FUCKING IRS FOR TAX-EXAMPT STATUS. Honestly, I’m sort of nervous this post will put on some sort of watch list, but we’d probably need more readers for that.

Biggest takeaway from the film? SCIENTOLOGY IS A CRAZY CULT, AND ANYONE WHO SAYS OTHERWISE YOU SHOULD PROBABLY REMOVE FROM YOUR CIRCLE OF ACQUAINTANCES. It’s too bad we’ll never be friends, Tom Cruise. I’d previously read Inside Scientology by Janet Reitman, so I was somewhat familiar a lot of the behind the scenes insanity already. The author attempts an objective view of the church, but it still comes off looking pretty bad for them. Highly recommend, if you’re looking for further reading.

Several celebrities, including national heroes Sarah Silverman and Neil DeGrasse-Tyson, have come out in (minor) defense of Scientology, contending it’s no crazier than other religions.

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Catholicism asserts that we drink JESUS’ LITERAL BLOOD at Mass. So, fair enough. And while the more dramatic items of the doctrine never rang true for me in my religious education, I still spent most of my youth and teens buying into a belief system that I can no longer reconcile. I can throw the word “crazy” around all I want in reference to Scientology, but under only slightly different circumstances, I could have been the crazy one.

You can check out Going Clear on HBO or HBOGo.

—Alison

Feed Me

On Monday, I am getting back on the Paleo diet.

I am fully aware that this makes me That Girl—the Lululemon type that’s always trying to get your office to do the Master Cleanse. Trust me, I don’t like it any better than you. For those who are unfamiliar, there are varying levels of intensity with Paleo. I cut out gluten, rice, corn, processed sugar, and dairy for 30 days last spring on a whim, and—to my surprise—it worked for me. I cooked more and felt better. My innate instinct to follow the rules helped me get my act together.

But I seriously love food, and now, months later, I really need to get my game back on track. As I always say, “Give me an inch, and I’ll take a mile of pizzas.”

I’m eating a lot of pizza, everybody.

So, as D-Day approaches, let’s take a look at some of the best uses of food in pop culture. Just one last binge…

Top Chef

An obvious choice, I know. But I’ve learned more from Top Chef about exotic cuisines and food combinations than anywhere else. It’s also one of the few reality shows left where actual experts compete, and—while there is drama in the kitchen at times—in the end it’s really only about the food. For the Season One finale, my friends and I wrote “Hella Fo’ Harold” on chef hats. And wore them. Just sitting around a living room. Our current status? We are still friends, not much cooler, and still Hella Fo’ Harold.

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The show has been especially helpful, also, in transforming me into a fully-formed, insufferable Food Snob. I’ve used the chef-testants’ pedigrees and resumes to inform many of my dining choices (especially when parents are involved) ($$$). Except for that one time when I got food poisoning from a Top Chef’s restaurant. The establishment shall remain nameless, but it hit me where I live. Hard.

Which segues seamlessly into my second example, as I chose to Netflix it for the first time during this dark period…

Bob’s Burgers

This is probably my favorite show on TV right now, for the writing alone. And for Tina.

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Oh, and also for Linda. I so desperately hope to be just like Linda, if I’m ever a mom—completely unembarrassed to be my weird self, and to be the ultimate champion for my (unavoidably) oddball children.

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Bob’s Burgers is in its fifth season. The restaurant has taken a back seat plot-wise, and rightfully so. They usually throw in a good Thanksgiving episode, but the real star of the food show is The Burger-Pun Menu. The puns have created a nice through-line since the first season. They’re a strong example of the show’s fine attention to detail.

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The Redwall Series, by Brian Jacques

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WTF were these books even about? Mice priests? Or knights? I think usually the woodland creatures ended up on some kind of quest, outside their fortress? I honestly can’t remember any of the plots to save my life. But you know what I do remember? Those fucking feasts they had. Usually I breeze past the descriptive passages in books to get to dialogue and action, but Jacques’ elaborate depiction of these voles’ (or whatever) epic meals hypnotized me. I had no idea what raspberry cordial was, but I wanted some. I remember a lot of dandelion greens. And trifle. So much trifle. (Again, nine-year-old me had no idea what trifle was. Just needed it in my tummy.)

Somm

This documentary covers four men studying for their Master Sommelier test, which seems to be literally the hardest test in the world. Also the douchiest. To pass, one needs an encyclopedic knowledge of history, geography, varietals—anything and everything about wine. Oh, and also the ability to identify six wines, down to the year, just using one’s senses. The dude on the left below frequently uses “a freshly opened can of tennis balls” as a point of comparison during his tasting prep. Yum?

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For the vast majority of it, Somm is undeniably about elitist, white people. But, for a big wino like me, the inside look at the industry is fascinating. I ended up rooting for these guys to pass as if they were members of an underdog sports team. Rudy! Rudy! I highly recommend checking it out on Netflix.

And before you ask, no I’m not giving up alcohol for Paleo, because I am not AN INSANE PERSON.

Alison