7 For Seven: Marshmallow

Fulfilling careers, political action, the spectrum, and other marshmallows.

Brady Gerber’s “7 For Seven”: Seven links on writing and creativity in your inbox by 7 AM EST every Wednesday, as well as Headphone Nation and ARTS & FARTS song reviews. 1st Friday: a new short story. 2nd and 4th Fridays: interviews with writers. Read on your browser.

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“Is this marshmallow deeply interesting to me?”

It’s Wednesday morning. Oof. Here are seven things to make your week more interesting:

1. The four rules to identifying your life’s work(s) - AKA, find your marshmallow.

(I like this because it drives home what I think is one of the more important pieces of career advice that I’ve ever received: Define your own meaning of “success.”)

(Annie Dillard takes it a step further: “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.”)

“At the nexus of enjoyable and meaningful is interesting. Interest is considered by many neuroscientists to be a positive primary emotion, processed in the limbic system of the brain. Something that truly interests you is intensely pleasurable; it also must have meaning in order to hold your interest. Thus, ‘Is this work deeply interesting to me?’ is a helpful litmus test of whether a job could be or could lead to your marshmallow.”



2. I’ve shared this 2018 feature before in this newsletter, but it’s worth resharing after rereading it this week: What Sorry to Bother You gets right about powerful, and politically meaningless, memes.

“In the end, the meme itself is powerful. It spreads to tens of millions of people. It makes one woman rich. It helps market soda. It makes Green (temporarily) famous, which allows him to get out his message (even if that ultimately failed).

“But it has no political impact. The only entities that it incontrovertibly helps are the sell-out can thrower and the soda company. Everybody else enacts themselves through the meme, using it as part of the bricolage of their lives, but that’s it. Everyone uses these memes to describe the world around them—not because they mean anything, but because that’s just what’s in the air and on the internet.”


3. Hannah Gadsby on being on the autism spectrum, comedy, and dealing with anti-vaxxers.

“I have autism. That is a political statement, because we are not part of the anti-vax conversation and that infuriates me. It’s anti-vaxxers saying autism is worse than polio, or other people saying anti-vaxxers are stupid. Autism is not a prison. It’s not something that should be terrifying. It is not a disability except that the world makes it incredibly difficult for us to function — and no one is asking what people with autism think.”

(I’ve shared before that I’m also on the spectrum - I specifically have PDD-NOS - and I screamed when I first read the above paragraph.)


4. I still haven’t seen The West Wing, yet I loved this deep dive into how shows like The West Wing create a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy of setting unrealistic expectations of how real politics work.

(TV never claims to be a reality, yet it’s a way to project how we [TV writers] want to see the world, so we [people who watch TV] use that fantasy as a benchmark for reality. That’s not a bad aim by default. It’s also why we have terrible shows like The Newsroom.)

(Like, The Social Network is a much better movie if, as Alison Willmore writes, you watch it as a warning about power and not about actual history.)


5. This doesn’t have anything to do with writing or creativity, but I found the Financial Times’ new series on the top 100 companies that have thrived during the pandemic surreal and insightful.

(Tencent!)


6. A new interview with Colson Whitehead, who has written multiple novels about American racism (one of which was one of the best novels I’ve read within the past decade), on what art can, and can’t, do.

“In terms of legislation, the people who might be moved by a work of art and then be further moved to enact some law, are not usually the people who read or listen to music. On an individual level, art elevates and nourishes and revitalises, but in terms of legislation it is a long time since the novel had that centrality in the culture in America.”


7. And finally, Speaking of Gadsby: Her bit in her new Netflix stand-up special about what it’s like to be on the spectrum in school is, from my experience … spot on.

(“But I’m not a triangle!”)

And so …


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HEADPHONE NATION

(think global)

Color Comic (Munich, Germany) remember chillwave?

The Eden Expansion (Austria) literally the opposite of chillwave

Zanshin 残真 (Melbourne, Australia) very chill

DJ Pat (Ottawa, Ontario) yoga-pant-clubbing, very chill

Kamila Sisu (Bilbao, Spain) actually very chill and nice

… we carry on …


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ARTS & FARTS

Song “reviews” … listen to all available tracks on the ARTS & FARTS Spotify playlist

Johnny Mandel - “Suicide Is Painless” (1970)

This weekend, I finally watched M*A*S*H, which is streaming on Hulu. Understandably, the show hasn’t aged well. (Do most shows age well? And is that a bad thing? To know that shows and audiences evolve?) I also get why the show was so big in its time. I was surprised by its melancholy, and I was struck by the first few minutes of the pilot, especially the show’s smart use of a delayed introduction to its theme song, an instrumental version of Johnny Mandel’s “Suicide Is Painless” that soundtracks the original film.

Lamb of God - “Checkmate” (2020)

4.5 riffs out of 5 riffs. If you’ve never checked out Lamb of God, their new album is a good place to start. Also, did you know that 2009’s Wrath went to No. 2 on the Billboard 200 just behind … Fearless-era Taylor Swift? Shout-out to all the fellow Guitar Hero players who first heard Lamb of God through “Laid to Rest.”

Willie Nelson - “First Rose of Spring” (2020)

Want to start your morning right? First thing you do, listen to Willie Nelson. His new singles have been great. My favorite Nelson album is 1974’s divorce concept album Phases and Stages.

Savages - “Fuckers” (Live) (2014)

2010s post-punk, but, like, good. The new Jehnny Beth solo album also is worth a listen.

Phoebe Bridgers - “Chinese Satellite” (2020)

I enjoy Punisher, though my same pet peeve from her also-great last album remains: Most of the songs move along the same tempo. It gives off the illusion that every song sounds the same; at the end of the first listen, I had to remind myself that I had just listened to an entire album of new music. It doesn’t help that she’s mostly using the same building blocks for her songs - gentle acoustic plucking on top of twitchy electronic beep-boops that puts the listener into a sad tornado. When it’s done well - “Motion Sickness” - it can floor you. Then you hear the repetition. “Kyoto” is the exception on Punisher, which is probably why it was a single. “ICU” comes close, though it just ends up being more loud than different. I say this all knowing that I’ll probably enjoy this record more with each relisten. “Chinese Satellite” is my favorite track on initial listening; she nails this kind of song better than most songwriters into the popular indie-verse right now.

Bob Dylan - “Murder Most Foul” (2020)

When I saw Dylan for the first time a few years ago, he was still in Sinatra mode, and he mostly played songs from his (very good) trilogy of Sinatra cover albums. The big revelation, which remained when I saw him live: his voice sounds great. I’m glad he’s still in Sinatra mood for his new album of originals. I’m not sure if it’s a great record. It’s definitely a good late-career Dylan album. If “Murder Most Foul” ends up being the final song of his final studio album, it’s a hell of a finale. Here’s my favorite review of the new Dylan album so far.

“Theme Song” - Fire Emblem: Three Houses (2019)

I finished the latest Fire Emblem this past weekend. It’s good! Repetitive gameplay with a better-than-average story and a cast of fully-fleshed, well-written characters you actually care about … just like every other Fire Emblem game. This game’s theme song is just good enough to be memorable. If only Kingdom Hearts 3 was as good as its theme song, which might be the best use of Skrillex in … years?

Onward!

-Brady


Brady writes about music (and other things) and draws cartoons. You can find him in New York MagazineRolling StoneInterviewPitchforkMcSweeney’sElectric LiteratureLiterary Hub, and more. Check out his website, where you’ll find his reading list this year, his latest features, and more ways to connect. Brady is a freelancer for hire who can do interviews, reporting, criticism, and playlists - get in touch if you need a writer.

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All cartoons by Brady Gerber. Headphone Nation logo by Sophie Wiener. ARTS & FARTS logo by Simon Morrow.

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