The freedom to do what I think you should be doing

Masking, the pandemic according to an American billionaire, conspiracy theories (and theorists), "purposefully vague," when memes grow up.

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.

purposefully vague

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

1 How I Came Out With My Autism

(This feature covers how different people came out with their own disabilities. These are all great stories, and I’m sharing this specifically about Helen Hoang’s own story with her autism and the idea of “masking,” which I didn’t realize was a term but is pretty much what I learned to do in high school with my own autism, so that I wasn’t bullied as much.)

I tried to explain masking, the process whereby autistic people (usually women) hide or mask their autistic traits to better fit in with society. I’m very good at masking. I learned to do this when I was little because I could see how people reacted to my dad, but underneath an easygoing, smiley facade, I’ve always struggled with issues like difficulty socializing, a need for routine, interests so consuming that they negatively impact my life, repetitive habits that I can’t stop, and mental breakdowns … [People] didn’t care if I was autistic as long as I didn’t act autistic.

“High functioning autism” isn’t an empty label just because it includes the words “high functioning.” It means I might have the ability to function under “neurotypical” demands — but only for a while. It means that not only do I need to rest frequently, but I also limit how I engage with people and I am mindful of where I am to reduce stress and overstimulation. I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I came out to my family, in addition to their acceptance, I was asking for their understanding of those limitations.

Another newsletter that I’m a big fan of: Christine Hennessey’s So Relatable, which covers great and interesting links and ideas on approaching creative projects and actually doing creative work. She’s much better at this than I am; she publishes on Sundays, and reading her is like reading the Sunday Times, while mine feels like something you put on the fridge out of pity. Her newsletter this week was all about the different things that drive us to write and create, especially during the pandemic. And cupcakes.

(If you’re a fan of this newsletter, give Christine a follow!)

3 A fascinating and insightful hate-read: Covid Conversations with one of America’s richest men.

(In a way, it’s refreshing to hear someone bluntly acknowledge that, no matter what, they’ll be OK for however long the pandemic goes on, and how much money they’ll make off their new businesses and investments related to both the pandemic and the recent protests. Sometimes, it’s good to call a spade a spade, instead of pretending that we’re all in this together.)

(With all that said, I agree with him on social media: no matter your political beliefs, if you intentionally go to social media to seek out nuance and fairness, you’re setting yourself up for failure every single time, and that time and energy can be better used elsewhere.)

(I’m sharing this too because these conversations began in early March and continued throughout the following months, and up until right after the first few weeks of the George Floyd protests; this feature serves as an interesting and surprisingly comprehensive summary of the pandemic so far.)

Some highlights:

“Some people are going to die, but it’s old people, and if they do, it’s OK,” he replied. Then he paused. “Not that it’s OK. This isn’t that bad.”


I asked if he intended to say that Americans were going to have to die to save the economy. Public health and private profit were at odds, he answered, and one was going to win out. “By focusing on the economy, a lot of people are going to get sick. And if we focus on public health, a lot of people are going to lose their jobs,” he said. “I know which way it’s going to end, but you can’t say it. You sound insensitive. In today’s world, everybody’s going to attack you.”

“The things [Trump] done on the business side I would tell you have all been positive. Does that offset all the harm he’s done? Economically, yes, for me, that’s been beneficial. Socially, how it hurts people, how I view the world, no, I would rather have less money to have a better world. But, OK, my punishment is I have more money to have a more f---ed world.”

Two days later I called him back and asked who won his game of Risk.

“I did,” he said.

“It’s horrible”—he recognized the extent of the agony. He just didn’t seem able to imagine an alternative.

“If you don’t like the system, I have no qualms. You want to break the system? Then you’d better be in charge … You want to change the system? I get that. You want to break the system? You better win. Because, if you don’t, the system is going to break you.”

4 I was a teenage conspiracy theorist.

(A forgiving look at conspiracy theorists that also acknowledges the limits of most conspiracies; sometimes, actually believing in the thing isn’t the point.)

Birtherism—the lie that Barack Obama wasn’t a natural-born U.S. citizen—was less about the merits of the case than it was about gesturing at the idea that a black man didn’t belong in the White House. The 9/11 Truth movement—for all its detailed discussion of the melting point of industrial steel—is really about conveying a deep distrust of the government. The insistence that mass shootings are false-flag operations fabricated by crisis actors is a twisted form of commentary about gun rights and media bias. This is why it doesn’t matter that so many of these theories, the existence of the Illuminati among them, fall apart under even the feeblest scrutiny: The worldview dictates the details, not the other way around … They’re an overly sensitive smoke detector: Noisy and not often right, but when they are, we are grateful something was making such a racket.

Speaking of wealth, Larry Fitzmaurice’s new newsletter features an interview with Protomartyr’s Joe Casey. They talked about the realities of being in a beloved but not-famous-enough indie band and how, without being able to tour and not coming from a lot of money, sustaining a band longterm now is nearly impossible.

It’s dire. From the beginning, we’ve put money in a joint account, but by the end of this year, that account might dry up. We’re not making any money other than T-shirts we sell online. We occasionally get a check from Sub Pop, because those old records were done so cheaply that we’re finally in the black on them. But when publishing comes in, it’s always piddling, especially when split up between four people. You make money from touring, so [no touring] really cut our legs off. But we put a lot of money into the band and didn’t take much out, so we’ll survive for this year. But if it lasts longer, we might be done as a band. We might have to get real jobs to earn money.

I don’t think people realize that, when it comes to indie rock bands, you have to come from money. It’s a rich persons’ hobby. We were only able to quit our jobs before recording [Relatives in Descent], because we knew we were gonna tour so much. But there are bands where you’re like, “How are they able to build their own studio?” Then you realize they’re all independently wealthy. Which is perfectly fine. Also, Canadian bands get money from the government. That’s how they’re able to come here and tour all the time.

6 Another new newsletter that I’m enjoying is Jes Skolnik’s “the parts of a body.” I’ve worked with Jes before - they’re currently an editor at Bandcamp Daily - and they write a lot about politics and how trans people are treated in music and media. Their most recent newsletter explores something that I tried to touch on in my Quiet Racism newsletter a few weeks ago but does so with greater clarity and detail: How we use “purposefully vague” language to deflate and hide the views we can’t defend.

(A good example of purposefully vague: the Harper’s letter.)

This requires journalists—including arts and culture journalists, because what the IHR and Rock Against Communism stories above should illustrate is that the far right is constantly trying to get a foothold in mainstream culture and explicitly understands that the arts are a good vehicle—to be familiar with what the far right is saying. Looking through those astroturfed accounts that I mentioned up top, seeing all those appeals to positivity and rationality, I thought about the Harper’s letter, which I briefly touched on in the last issue of this newsletter—about how purposefully vague the text of the letter is, and how it only comes into clear focus once you know that it’s been signed by a group of notable transphobes and that it’s responding to some very distinct events in media. It might be tempting to see someone talking about “anti-woke” or “anti-idpol” politics as kicking back against liberal representational politics (a legitimate thing to critique! A thing I have many critiques of!), when they’re actually just mad about, like, the current Black uprising being covered, or trans people existing.

7 And finally, the Success Kid meme is now a teen, and his actual life story is interesting as hell.

(Hopefully, in the future, a history of accidental meme stardom won’t be a prerequisite for affording healthcare in America.)

And so …

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(think global)

professorkinski (Phnom Penh, Cambodia) From 2011, the kind of extended techno remix of Cambodian pop that I would play at my imaginary club gigs.

ПУЛЬТ (Russia) I don't think about Russian emo (or emo-adjacent) too much, though I do enjoy this track. The band name translates into "Remote Controller," which is an excellent emo name.

Theo Alexander (London, UK) I tweet about Theo's music a lot, yet this piano playing always surprises me.

Booty Powder (Tallinn, Estonia) was just introduced to this series that focuses on Tallinn footwork, juke, and ghettotek. An amazing use of rhythm that acts like a melody.

… we carry on …

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Song “reviews”

Josh Joplin Group - “Camera One” (2001)

I have no sense how big “Camera One” is. Have you heard this song? Has anyone heard this song? I feel like I’ve heard this song a million times. I love “Camera One.” I love it because it reminds me of a lot of other songs I like. I thought this was later period R.E.M. when I first heard it. Hardcore Scrubs-core.

My Morning Jacket - “Feel You” (2020)

First listen: Wow, this song is not very good and is in fact very annoying.

Second listen: Wow, this song is a masterpiece and is in fact very good.

Third listen: It’s pretty good!

Fourth listen: [Hasn’t happened yet.]

Thelonious Monk - “Ugly Beauty” (1968)

One of the weirder jazz classics I’ve heard - those chords - yet so beautiful.

Antonín Dvořák - “String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, Op. 96 ‘American’” (1893)

A Czech’s take on Iowa.

Waxahatchee - “St. Cloud” (2020)

When this album came out earlier this year, there was this insane rush to talk about how amazing and perfect it was, which always throws me off. (The same thing happened to me and the Phoebe Bridgers and Fiona Apple albums; there was a surreal competition among writers to see who could love these albums the most and see who, like, really got them.) Sounding like an annoying contrarian aside, I didn’t spend much time with this record, even though I knew I would probably love it. Now it’s been a few weeks, and I finally listened to it. Yeah, it’s that good. The title track, while fine on its own, needs to be heard within the context of the album. It sounds completely different as an album closer. It’s worth the wait.



Brady writes about music (and other things) and draws cartoons. You can find him in New York Magazine, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Interview Magazine, McSweeney’s, Electric Literature, Literary 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. This newsletter was made possible with the help of Simon Morrow, who also designed the ARTS & FARTS logo. Thank you, Simon!