This week in smog and stitches

Since my last massive scarf I've knitted a couple of wonky hats, a bag, a pouch, and another scarf. The scarf used the tumbling moss blocks pattern, which I really liked because of the methodical repetitiveness of 20 rows and seeing the pattern form.

In December, I bought some angora wool in a shop in Antalya (I learned the word for wool in Turkish is yün!) and when I say some I mean I bought six balls of yarn with wild dreams of all the things I would make. I'm making a Noro striped scarf-inspired version, holding two strands of the yarn together. It is gorgeous and I cannot wait to use it.I'm then going to finally start a sweater, which I am mostly terrified about.

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I am currently in Lahore, or more accurately, I am currently holed up in a room in Lahore since I caught some bug right after I arrived, which coupled with the toxic air has destroyed me. I now have a hacking cough not unlike that of the soundtrack of a horror film.

This is the air quality here. Delightful.

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On work: I am not quite sure what I'm doing next. I have some projects that have been on hold that I'm hoping to start up again. I've been working my way through the back-end prep section of Launch School which has been really fun and forced me to engage with the concepts in a very different way. I've done some intro to Python work as well as FreeCodeCamp, but this feels like a more immersive experience.

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Things I have heard/read/liked: I started reading Michael Pollan's book on psychedelics but I haven't picked it up again since the life-sapping cough. The Assassination - a podcast by Owen Bennett Jones on his investigation into the murder of Benazir Bhutto - is excellent. (There is a great line in there about BB criticising the coffee Jones served to her.) I am also just finishing the first season of Slow Burn about Watergate. And I’ve been binge-watching Brooklyn 99 and it is so, so good and I have not laughed (and coughed!) this much in YEARS.

Guantanamo Library: Bollywood, and Bakra Qiston Pe

Last year, the U.S. government released a list of video/film and book titles available at Guantanamo, in response to an FOIA request. The entire list is on GovernmentAttic here. I hadn’t looked at the entire list until now, and I did a double take when I saw Bakra Qiston Pe is available.

Carol Rosenberg’s incredibly invaluable reporting on Guantanamo includes updates on the library: Rosenberg reported that the library added Moana last July. In 2013,  she reported on how censors did not approve a book by Noam Chomsky.

Last month, The Independent reported that Pakistani detainee Saifullah Paracha was refused permission to read a book about non-violence authored by family members of victims of the 9/11 attacks.

There’s also a tumblr of images at books at Guantanamo: http://gitmobooks.tumblr.com

For consumers of South Asian popular culture, here are some of the titles available at Guantanamo:

Bakra Qiston Pe – one of the standouts of Pakistan’s comedy theatre productions, the stage play is a classic, rife with sketches of a Genghis Khan-like character, a lot of Michael Jackson music and moonwalking and references to America, and some bawdy and stereotyped humor.

Fifty Fifty – An Urdu satire/sketch show, probably considered among the best shows produced in Pakistan

Taleem-e-Balighan – A classic Urdu play on school education

Bollywood Zero Hour Mashup – If this is the same mashup I’ve heard at workout studios, it’s not very good.

Something called Shahid vs Ranbir, which is what? A Bollywood face-off?

Desi Boyz (A really, really average Bollywood film)

Veer Zaara – A soppy, sappy film about an Indian man who languishes, forgotten, in a Pakistani prison for years, torn from the woman he loves, and is only saved when a lawyer takes up his case

Dhoom and Dhoom 2 and Dhoom 3

(and Chennai Express.)

Dil Se – a Mani Ratnam film about nationalism, insurgency, and love in India. (This piece by Daisy Rockwell on the film is great.)

Tremors – Every Pakistani saw this film in the 1990s.

In the library, along with works by Murakami, Nietzsche, Marquez, Mahfouz, Rowling are works by Saadat Hasan Manto (written as Minto in the list – one wonders if the letters to Uncle Sam are included?), Mustansar Hussain Tarar, and Khadija Mastoor.

Reading (and rereading) the ‘60s guide to single life

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 Sex and the Single Girl was published in 1962. I first read it last year, and every few months I get back to it. I reread books a lot, but this isn’t the book I read to kill time before an appointment or eating alone. This is the book that I read when I feel uninspired and sad and in the opening-last-bag-of-chili-chips throes of misery, and every time I read it, I go away wanting to do better, be better, dress better, and to just get to work.

Sex and the Single Girl was revolutionary when it was published. But there’s still something about the book that feels startlingly different: that it doesn’t consider as strange or unnatural to build a life as a single person, a life for yourself, a life that celebrates the idea of independence, a life that is fun. The reason it feels new, still, is because it’s so imbued in practical advice. This is an actual guide; not the glossy version of single life, not the cliched parts, but the parts of SATC that were about the hustle.

Of course, Brown’s book is mired in the idea of getting — or at least, being appealing to a man — singledom with a view to getting somewhere. There are archaic, stereotypical views — particularly of gay men — and parts that will make you cringe.

But it’s the everyday routines where Brown’s advice on what to wear, how to decorate, how to spend, how to focus on work is absolutely fantastic. Sometimes I wish I could go back to my 18-year-old self and hand her this book. Brown’s advice is so different from the notions of indulgent self-care – sure, you should indulge in self care, but also do well at work. Brown is brutally honest – and right – about so many things, like byob – who wants a party where you have to bring things at? Or the merits of chilled rose – so far ahead of the last few years’ rose and frose trends. Or the joy of creating a jewelbox of a tiny, cheap apartment — more people, she writes, will say “That girl has the most divine apartment” than they ever will about a divine husband, which I would get inscribed on a t-shirt if I could. Brown doesn’t think it’s a compromise to live on a miniscule budget, but to feel pride in living within your means and having a career and to not feel shame or guilted into entertaining or dining out when you’d rather save it for the Balenciaga coat of your dreams.

Cupboards, she writes, should be almost bare: “Who are all these other people you’re feeding?”

Brown describes how she’d turn her ennui – once not being invited to a shower by a girl she’d apparently slighted – into opportunity, entering a competition (which a friend of hers had won previously, making her jealous) Brown doesn’t pretend to be immune from all the feelings that plague us – envy, jealousy, loneliness, exhaustion, weight. But she teaches something more important: that a single life is a great life. The fear of missing out is real, but don’t let being single — or being poor — make you think you can’t enjoy brunch. It is the life that other people should and do covet, not the other way around. And this is a lesson that’s perhaps even more important today, in a world of faux #goals (a word I have happily muted on Twitter and would on Instagram too, because in the immortal words of Chrissy Teigen: 

Brown’s book is a compelling get your life together spiel. So: Why are you sitting around feeling sorry for myself? Why don’t you condition your hair and go out for a walk? Why don’t you drink a glass of cheap something and study up on your French? (Or Arabic or Farsi or whatever it is you’re doing?) What excuse do we have for sitting around and waiting for things to happen?

Walk What Way? (Or why everyone should read Jessica Valenti's memoir Sex Object)

I went out for a walk on Monday evening. I ended up going in the opposite direction to where I'd planned to go, and I only figured it out thirty minutes in. By the time I walked back home, I wished multiple times over that the earth would swallow me up. From the creepy dude who drove around twice to offer me a lift - the euphemism for 'hop in to be raped' - to being leered at by male motorists whose heads do a full 180 degree turn when they see a woman without slowing down their vehicles, it was less of a walk and more of scene from The Exorcist on Wheels.

This is not a rare occasion. This is every day of my life. It has been every day of my life for so long that I can't seem to remember a time when someone didn't say something creepy or stare.

I don't think I've ever been able to, or ever will be able to articulate this. Which is why reading Jessica Valenti's Sex Object has been such a relief, as if someone finally put into words the exact sensation of when your brain switches over from 'hmm it's nice weather' to 'walk really fast, walkreallyfast, walkreallyreallyfast.'

Valenti describes just how it feels to be a perpetual subject of harassment, how it changes and shapes the way you act and think and perceive people and situations and relationships. It's an incredible book; one that I hope everyone reads.

This is the excerpt that I read before the book, which sums up so much of how I've felt over the years:

We know that direct violence causes trauma; we have shelters, counsellors, services. We know that children who live in violent neighbourhoods are more likely to develop PTSD. Yet we still have no name for what happens to women living in a culture that hates them.
When you catch a cold or a virus, your body has ways of letting you know that you are sick. But what diagnosis do you give to the shaking hands you get after a stranger whispers “pussy” in your ear on your way to work? What medicine can you take to stop being afraid that the cab driver is not actually taking you home? And what about those of us who walk through all this without feeling any of it – what does it say about the hoops our brain had to jump through to get to ambivalence? I don’t believe any of us walk away unscathed.