Through Snowstorms, Sickness, and Blogging

Here’s what was important this week…

We’re all in recovery from the snow and frigid cold that gripped most of the United States this week. It’s been too cold in much of my city to properly use salt–the city has just had to spread sand and efficiently clear the snow, and hope for the best until it got warm enough yesterday to start spreading some salt. This might be a good thing, because the salt used to de-ice roads in winter has damaging effects on the environment, largely due to the run-off of the chloride.

Another unfortunate and little-considered effect that these winter storms have on our lives is the order that snow is cleared off the streets. In Sweden at least, the prioritizing turns out to be rather gendered. The priorities effectively ignore the more vulnerable populations–women, mostly–that rely on public transportation and daycare that may be less accessible while snow is cleared elsewhere.

This oversight extends beyond snow clearing and to general urban design as well, but it is beginning to be recognized. Recognizing how women use cities is imperative for designing transportation networks and community centers that work in a city, and government in Vienna, Austria is doing just that.

Considering the role of women and children in cities is important, and it’s just as important when considering public health. Parents are bestowed with the responsibility of making most decisions for their children, and when it comes to vaccines, there has been a disturbing trend toward not vaccinating children from harmful diseases, for fear of worse side effects.

This isn’t necessarily a new trend, though it’s been more popular recently. This woman grew up in the 1970s with an alternative health focused mother, and was never vaccinated. And although her parents were fastidious about her health, what she ate and was exposed to, she caught almost every disease that we have vaccines to prevent. Needless to say, she vaccinated her children. But vaccines don’t prevent everything…

Lots of people who are active and healthy can end up dreadfully sick. This 25-year-old man was perfectly healthy, and had gone on a hike days earlier when he found himself in the hospital with life-threatening liver failure. And a 30-year-old woman who had just gone surfing with her boyfriend and was home getting ready to go out when she had a stroke.

Then, of course, there are the chronic illnesses that come on without warning. Tessa Miller writes about her experiences with Inflammable Bowel Disease and a Clostridium difficile infection, and Quinn Norton writes about an E. coli infection that continues to haunt her as it becomes resistant to more and more antibiotics.

Reading these is enough to turn me into a hypochondriac for life, and riddle me with eternal anxiety about getting this sick. But these writers are humanizing themselves and their illnesses by sharing their experiences. If we should take anything away, it’s not anxiety but a sense that the world is greater than ourselves. As Quinn so eloquently remarked,

“Humans are so beautiful and clever and hopeful a species that we’ve exceeded all bounds, and as a result are slowly killing the biome of our precious host, so very much like the little E. coli that are unwittingly trying to kill me. Like us, my E. coli would have to understand that it is not the generation that invades that eventually kills the host, but their offspring, generations unimaginably far in the future, that pay with the death of their galaxy of me.”

Riese from Autostraddle takes to task novels that focus on sickness, especially Lurlene McDaniel novels. The biggest issue is “not that she talks about death, it’s how she talks about death.” In using ableist and sexist stereotypes to frame the stories, McDaniel also romanticizes the illnesses, presenting an unrealistic and damaging image of sickness to young children (especially girls). The essays above, all written by people who have been through these difficulties, come across as honest and pretty gross at times. But they are true.

True stories about sickness, though, aren’t perfect either. Alice Gregory unpacks a book about anorexia for the New Yorker, and though the book tries to avoid it, Alice points out that “any writing about anorexia makes it more interesting than it really is—even a book that sets out to condemn the very act.” Enough about sickness. Let’s talk about death.

The death of blogs, that is. Jason Kottke, a blogger since the early days of the Internet, predicted for the Nieman Journalism Lab that 2014 would be the death of the blog. He notes that “Instead of blogging, people are posting to Tumblr, tweeting, pinning things to their board, posting to Reddit, Snapchatting, updating Facebook statuses, Instagramming, and publishing on Medium.” Although all these media are forms of blogging in a certain sense, the idea of a personal stream, according to Jason, is on the wane.

But Robert McGinley Myers, a much newer blogger, hypothesizes that blogs will stick around. As he notes, “it’s the terminology that’s changing rather than the impulse”, so people still write on the Internet, just in different places and in different ways. Jason notes that “The primary mode for the distribution of links has moved from the loosely connected network of blogs to tightly integrated services like Facebook and Twitter.” as people wish to share that information with people that they know, but Robert recognizes that blogging itself fulfills a different impulse. As he puts it:

“I want to communicate with people I don’t know. And that’s why I think blogs, or personal websites, or single author web publications, or whatever-the-fuck-you-want-to-call-them, still matter.”

Robert was responding to Jason’s post, but Frank Chimero made a similar decision on his own. As Jason notes the increasing division of effort away from one blog to multiple social media, Frank does as well, but differently framed. He notes, “the web right now is a house divided: a silo for each little thing that you make.” Frank finds this lacking (and I do as well), because as he’s recognized, “these networks are sorted by what things are (a photo, video, snarky quip, etc.), rather than who made them.” And for that reason, he’s revamping his website and returning to blogging this 2014.

Blogging is difficult. It takes a certain leap of faith to write something, put it out on the Internet for strangers to read, or not. That’s why Matt recommends that you “blog just for two people.” (and one of those is you). It certainly makes it less daunting, and likely that you’ll produce better work that way. I wrote two blog posts over the holiday break, one which I shared last week and one which I delayed publishing until this Wednesday. It’s about growing up with music, and the devices and media that I experienced it through. I hope you enjoy it.

And as a reward for making it through this extra-long edition of This is Important (especially without a webcomic interlude), here is an ENTIRE EP of music from the excellent band that I just discovered today courtesy of one of the blogs I reference in my own blog post. The band is HIGHS and you should listen to this now.

Thank you all for reading, and have an excellent weekend!