Photo: Max Sat

Women We Read This Week

Margarita Gokun Silver’s “Right on Track” in Aeon

I once took a train from Virginia to Louisiana because it seemed like less of a hassle (and less scary) than flying. That 40-hour trip pushed me to the limit of my love for train travel, as, toward the end, I felt as if I was going a bit mad and just needed to be on ground that wasn’t moving. Even still, train is by far my favorite way to travel. There’s just something about it—as this essay unpacks—that makes it singularly fun/exciting/romantic/nostalgic/relaxing as modes of long-distance transportation go. I retain better memories of the books I read on a train than in any other place. To be a train passenger is to be gifted a length of time when we are forced to sit: to be alone with our thoughts, to interact with strangers, to finally read that book. It was particularly fun when I lived in the U.K., where the trains are much nicer, more frequent, and cheaper than in the U.S. This beautiful essay seems to move at the pace of train travel, and to evoke the feelings one has about such trips. It’s a small slice of the cultural and social history of our relationship with trains, and why we have grown to love them.

In contemplation, as in travel, we construct ourselves. With everyday minutiae gone at least temporarily, and with scenery providing the backdrop so essential to introspection, we find the time to reflect. And while other forms of transport take away from this process, either by their sheer discomfort (think planes) or considerable effort (think driving), trains inspire it. ‘You are part of the constant process of the breaking and making of links, which is an element in the constitution of you yourself,’ wrote Doreen Massey, a British social scientist and geographer, in For Space (2005). A forgotten luxury in a society that moves with the speed of a viral post, this process of constituting ourselves has space to spark, germinate and unravel – only on a train.

Trains are used as the backdrops for so many stories—the place where something happens that couldn’t happen anywhere else, be it murder, love, or anything in between. One of the most interesting parts of this essay is where she talks about how our view of train travel has completely changed. It was initially viewed with skepticism and suspicion—seen as a “device of the devil,” where now we find it nostalgic, even meditative.

Train transport became synonymous with progress, which lacked soul and prioritised haste over contemplation. … Fast-forward a century and a half, and the monotony that Tolstoy loathed has become the antidote to progress rather than its derivative.

Stephanie Land’s “The Class Politics of Decluttering” in The New York Times

I’m a staunch advocate of minimalism—well, as much as anyone with three kids can be, anyway. I love moving house; what I love most about moving is throwing away the stuff I’m not using. When we moved a few months ago, all of our belongings barely took up half of a moving truck. There are hording tendencies in my family, so I think my compulsion to keep very little may stem from that. And I’m also fiercely unsentimental when it comes to objects.

I think of my style as more “living with less” than “minimalist” and it’s something I’ve aspired to do for many years. The most recent decluttering craze is largely due to the wildly successful book by Marie Kondo on how clearing out your stuff can be life changing. In the New York Times opinion section, writer Stephanie Land points out the inherent, unspoken classism of this fad:

But minimalism is a virtue only when it’s a choice, and it’s telling that its fan base is clustered in the well-off middle class. For people who are not so well off, the idea of opting to have even less is not really an option.

Having less because you are poor is looked upon as a failing. Having less when you could have more, well, that’s freeing. What I realize as I’m reading this piece is not that the lower classes are left out of such fads; it’s that they have been practicing this lifestyle all along. Rich people just came along and gave it a name. Tiny house craze? Why yes, people with lower incomes have been living in smaller homes for centuries. If you can’t afford a big house, you’re doing something wrong; if you choose to downsize for any reason other than economic strain, you’re to be commended for your bravery. It’s a ridiculous double standard. Having “less” because you can’t afford any “more” does not feel freeing—usually the opposite.

Molly Harris’s “I am the Personification of a Hate Crime, and I’m Voting for Donald Trump ” in Rebellious Magazine

I tend to stay away from discussing politics, but this election season it seems particularly unavoidable. There is so much to mock, so much to fear. I’m just still so incredulous that it’s actually Donald Trump! And I think many democrats and republicans alike aren’t happy about it. This essay by Molly Harris is quite possibly the most on-point, hilariously whip-smart portrayal of the trainwreck that has been the republican race to the white house this year. The piece is as frightening as it is funny. It’s really short, but I had trouble choosing which sections to highlight here, because it is all so good. She starts by assessing the players:

Who even cared about the other candidates? Ted Cruz is the human equivalent of a moist toilette left abandoned on the sweat-riddled gym floor of history, and Marco Rubio wandered through the primaries with the dazed and frightened appearance of a sex doll that came to life through the magic of a pervy wizard and was deeply ashamed of his past actions. Donald Trump, a vengeful Oompa Loompa with a hairpiece fashioned from a stale piece of Laffy Taffy he found under a park bench, is the only logical choice.

And then moves on to depict what America under a Trump presidency might look like:

We will revert to a simpler time—back when men were men…and back when women were scared of men. Life with a Trump presidency will be like a never-ending episode of “The Flintstones” where Barney has been given authoritarian power and full control of his Twitter feed. … Our vice president is the lifeless corpse of George Wallace that David Duke uses for his “Weekend-at-Bernie’s” cosplay, and our Supreme Court has been replaced by a collection of Magic 8 balls that Chuck Grassley found in his garage.



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