Tag Archives: Culture

Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming

A lecture explaining why using our imaginations, and providing for others to use theirs, is an obligation for all citizens

Its important for people to tell you what side they are on and why, and whether they might be biased. A declaration of members interests, of a sort. So, I am going to be talking to you about reading. Im going to tell you that libraries are important. Im going to suggest that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do. Im going to make an impassioned plea for people to understand what libraries and librarians are, and to preserve both of these things.

And I am biased, obviously and enormously: Im an author, often an author of fiction. I write for children and for adults. For about 30 years I have been earning my living through my words, mostly by making things up and writing them down. It is obviously in my interest for people to read, for them to read fiction, for libraries and librarians to exist and help foster a love of reading and places in which reading can occur.

So Im biased as a writer. But I am much, much more biased as a reader. And I am even more biased as a British citizen.

And Im here giving this talk tonight, under the auspices of the Reading Agency: a charity whose mission is to give everyone an equal chance in life by helping people become confident and enthusiastic readers. Which supports literacy programs, and libraries and individuals and nakedly and wantonly encourages the act of reading. Because, they tell us, everything changes when we read.

And its that change, and that act of reading that Im here to talk about tonight. I want to talk about what reading does. What its good for.

I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldnt read. And certainly couldnt read for pleasure.

Its not one to one: you cant say that a literate society has no criminality. But there are very real correlations.

And I think some of those correlations, the simplest, come from something very simple. Literate people read fiction.

Fiction has two uses. Firstly, its a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if its hard, because someones in trouble and you have to know how its all going to end thats a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, youre on the road to reading everything. And reading is key. There were noises made briefly, a few years ago, about the idea that we were living in a post-literate world, in which the ability to make sense out of written words was somehow redundant, but those days are gone: words are more important than they ever were: we navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto the web, we need to follow, to communicate and to comprehend what we are reading. People who cannot understand each other cannot exchange ideas, cannot communicate, and translation programs only go so far.

The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.

I dont think there is such a thing as a bad book for children. Every now and again it becomes fashionable among some adults to point at a subset of childrens books, a genre, perhaps, or an author, and to declare them bad books, books that children should be stopped from reading. Ive seen it happen over and over; Enid Blyton was declared a bad author, so was RL Stine, so were dozens of others. Comics have been decried as fostering illiteracy.

Enid
No such thing as a bad writer… Enid Blytons Famous Five. Photograph: Greg Balfour Evans/Alamy

Its tosh. Its snobbery and its foolishness. There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. A hackneyed, worn-out idea isnt hackneyed and worn out to them. This is the first time the child has encountered it. Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is a route to other books you may prefer. And not everyone has the same taste as you.

Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a childs love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian improving literature. Youll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.

We need our children to get onto the reading ladder: anything that they enjoy reading will move them up, rung by rung, into literacy. (Also, do not do what this author did when his 11-year-old daughter was into RL Stine, which is to go and get a copy of Stephen Kings Carrie, saying if you liked those youll love this! Holly read nothing but safe stories of settlers on prairies for the rest of her teenage years, and still glares at me when Stephen Kings name is mentioned.)

And the second thing fiction does is to build empathy. When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. Youre being someone else, and when you return to your own world, youre going to be slightly changed.

Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals.

Youre also finding out something as you read vitally important for making your way in the world. And its this:

The world doesnt have to be like this. Things can be different.

I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?

Its simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.

Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere youve never been. Once youve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.

And while were on the subject, Id like to say a few words about escapism. I hear the term bandied about as if its a bad thing. As if escapist fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in.

If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldnt you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with(and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.

As JRR Tolkien reminded us, the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers.

Tolkien's
Tolkiens illustration of Bilbos home, Bag End. Photograph: HarperCollins

Another way to destroy a childs love of reading, of course, is to make sure there are no books of any kind around. And to give them nowhere to read those books. I was lucky. I had an excellent local library growing up. I had the kind of parents who could be persuaded to drop me off in the library on their way to work in summer holidays, and the kind of librarians who did not mind a small, unaccompanied boy heading back into the childrens library every morning and working his way through the card catalogue, looking for books with ghosts or magic or rockets in them, looking for vampires or detectives or witches or wonders. And when I had finished reading the childrens library I began on the adult books.

They were good librarians. They liked books and they liked the books being read. They taught me how to order books from other libraries on inter-library loans. They had no snobbery about anything I read. They just seemed to like that there was this wide-eyed little boy who loved to read, and would talk to me about the books I was reading, they would find me other books in a series, they would help. They treated me as another reader nothing less or more which meant they treated me with respect. I was not used to being treated with respect as an eight-year-old.

But libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.

I worry that here in the 21st century people misunderstand what libraries are and the purpose of them. If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated in a world in which most, but not all, books in print exist digitally. But that is to miss the point fundamentally.

I think it has to do with nature of information. Information has value, and the right information has enormous value. For all of human history, we have lived in a time of information scarcity, and having the needed information was always important, and always worth something: when to plant crops, where to find things, maps and histories and stories they were always good for a meal and company. Information was a valuable thing, and those who had it or could obtain it could charge for that service.

In the last few years, weve moved from an information-scarce economy to one driven by an information glut. According to Eric Schmidt of Google, every two days now the human race creates as much information as we did from the dawn of civilisation until 2003. Thats about five exobytes of data a day, for those of you keeping score. The challenge becomes, not finding that scarce plant growing in the desert, but finding a specific plant growing in a jungle. We are going to need help navigating that information to find the thing we actually need.

A
Photograph: Alamy

Libraries are places that people go to for information. Books are only the tip of the information iceberg: they are there, and libraries can provide you freely and legally with books. More children are borrowing books from libraries than ever before books of all kinds: paper and digital and audio. But libraries are also, for example, places that people, who may not have computers, who may not have internet connections, can go online without paying anything: hugely important when the way you find out about jobs, apply for jobs or apply for benefits is increasingly migrating exclusively online. Librarians can help these people navigate that world.

I do not believe that all books will or should migrate onto screens: as Douglas Adams once pointed out to me, more than 20 years before the Kindle turned up, a physical book is like a shark. Sharks are old: there were sharks in the ocean before the dinosaurs. And the reason there are still sharks around is that sharks are better at being sharks than anything else is. Physical books are tough, hard to destroy, bath-resistant, solar-operated, feel good in your hand: they are good at being books, and there will always be a place for them. They belong in libraries, just as libraries have already become places you can go to get access to ebooks, and audiobooks and DVDs and web content.

A library is a place that is a repository of information and gives every citizen equal access to it. That includes health information. And mental health information. Its a community space. Its a place of safety, a haven from the world. Its a place with librarians in it. What the libraries of the future will be like is something we should be imagining now.

Literacy is more important than ever it was, in this world of text and email, a world of written information. We need to read and write, we need global citizens who can read comfortably, comprehend what they are reading, understand nuance, and make themselves understood.

Libraries really are the gates to the future. So it is unfortunate that, round the world, we observe local authorities seizing the opportunity to close libraries as an easy way to save money, without realising that they are stealing from the future to pay for today. They are closing the gates that should be open.

According to a recent study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, England is the only country where the oldest age group has higher proficiency in both literacy and numeracy than the youngest group, after other factors, such as gender, socio-economic backgrounds and type of occupations are taken into account.

Or to put it another way, our children and our grandchildren are less literate and less numerate than we are. They are less able to navigate the world, to understand it to solve problems. They can be more easily lied to and misled, will be less able to change the world in which they find themselves, be less employable. All of these things. And as a country, England will fall behind other developed nations because it will lack a skilled workforce.

Books are the way that we communicate with the dead. The way that we learn lessons from those who are no longer with us, that humanity has built on itself, progressed, made knowledge incremental rather than something that has to be relearned, over and over. There are tales that are older than most countries, tales that have long outlasted the cultures and the buildings in which they were first told.

I think we have responsibilities to the future. Responsibilities and obligations to children, to the adults those children will become, to the world they will find themselves inhabiting. All of us as readers, as writers, as citizens have obligations. I thought Id try and spell out some of these obligations here.

I believe we have an obligation to read for pleasure, in private and in public places. If we read for pleasure, if others see us reading, then we learn, we exercise our imaginations. We show others that reading is a good thing.

We have an obligation to support libraries. To use libraries, to encourage others to use libraries, to protest the closure of libraries. If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom. You are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.

We have an obligation to read aloud to our children. To read them things they enjoy. To read to them stories we are already tired of. To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not to stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves. Use reading-aloud time as bonding time, as time when no phones are being checked, when the distractions of the world are put aside.

We have an obligation to use the language. To push ourselves: to find out what words mean and how to deploy them, to communicate clearly, to say what we mean. We must not to attempt to freeze language, or to pretend it is a dead thing that must be revered, but we should use it as a living thing, that flows, that borrows words, that allows meanings and pronunciations to change with time.

We writers and especially writers for children, but all writers have an obligation to our readers: its the obligation to write true things, especially important when we are creating tales of people who do not exist in places that never were to understand that truth is not in what happens but what it tells us about who we are. Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, after all. We have an obligation not to bore our readers, but to make them need to turn the pages. One of the best cures for a reluctant reader, after all, is a tale they cannot stop themselves from reading. And while we must tell our readers true things and give them weapons and give them armour and pass on whatever wisdom we have gleaned from our short stay on this green world, we have an obligation not to preach, not to lecture, not to force predigested morals and messages down our readers throats like adult birds feeding their babies pre-masticated maggots; and we have an obligation never, ever, under any circumstances, to write anything for children that we would not want to read ourselves.

We have an obligation to understand and to acknowledge that as writers for children we are doing important work, because if we mess it up and write dull books that turn children away from reading and from books, we ve lessened our own future and diminished theirs.

We all adults and children, writers and readers have an obligation to daydream. We have an obligation to imagine. It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual is less than nothing: an atom in a wall, a grain of rice in a rice field. But the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.

Look around you: I mean it. Pause, for a moment and look around the room that you are in. Im going to point out something so obvious that it tends to be forgotten. Its this: that everything you can see, including the walls, was, at some point, imagined. Someone decided it was easier to sit on a chair than on the ground and imagined the chair. Someone had to imagine a way that I could talk to you in London right now without us all getting rained on.This room and the things in it, and all the other things in this building, this city, exist because, over and over and over, people imagined things.

We have an obligation to make things beautiful. Not to leave the world uglier than we found it, not to empty the oceans, not to leave our problems for the next generation. We have an obligation to clean up after ourselves, and not leave our children with a world weve shortsightedly messed up, shortchanged, and crippled.

We have an obligation to tell our politicians what we want, to vote against politicians of whatever party who do not understand the value of reading in creating worthwhile citizens, who do not want to act to preserve and protect knowledge and encourage literacy. This is not a matter of party politics. This is a matter of common humanity.

Albert Einstein was asked once how we could make our children intelligent. His reply was both simple and wise. If you want your children to be intelligent, he said, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales. He understood the value of reading, and of imagining. I hope we can give our children a world in which they will read, and be read to, and imagine, and understand.

This is an edited version of Neil Gaimans lecture for the Reading Agency, delivered on Monday October 14 at the Barbican in London. The Reading Agencys annual lecture series was initiated in 2012 as a platform for leading writers and thinkers to share original, challenging ideas about reading and libraries.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming

READ MORE

8 Outdated, Horrid Rituals Women Are Still Subjected To All Over The World

Weddings, bat and bar mitzvahs, communions…they’re all ritual practices we’ve grown accustomed to.

Rituals are created by societies to establish a sense of community and oneness.

But not every ritual ends with a party and a cake. Even in 2016, there are still some cultures that continue to enforce ancient ceremonial practices — often at the expense, belittlement, and abuse of women.

Here are some of the most bizarre and horrific rituals performed on women to this day.

1. Force-feeding

Women in Mauritania are expected to be full-figured, so young women are force-fed a diet of 16,000 calories a day before their wedding. Young girls are overfed as children in preparation for this. Naturally, the practice comes with countless health problems down the line and can even lead to death from burst stomachs.

2. Crying marriages

Getty Images

In Southwest China’s Sichuan Province, the Tujia people practice a strange Qing Dynasty custom called “Zuo Tang” that forces brides to cry every night before their wedding for a whole month. After 10 days of crying alone, her mother is supposed to join. Ten days after that, her grandmother. Soon, aunts, female cousins, and sisters join the cry-fest until the wedding day.

3. Female circumcision

Women in the Sabiny tribe in Uganda are forced to have part of if not their ENTIRE clitoris removed as a symbol of achieving womanhood. The process has a high chance of causing death by infection, but to Sabiny women, it’s all part of an elaborate test to prove their loyalty to their men.

4. Kidnapping

Certain sects of the Romani people — otherwise known as Gypsies and largely concentrated in Europe — believe that if a man kidnaps a woman he likes for three to five days, he has every right to marry her.

5. Teeth chiseling

The women of the Mentawai Islands in Sumatra have their teeth filed into points. This is said to make them more attractive to men. The local shaman bangs away at the teeth with a knife; later, they’re chiseled into something resembling shark teeth.

6. Beatings

In parts of Brazil, it’s customary to beat women in the streets as some kind of test for marriage. The woman is kidnapped and brought out naked into the town, where she is beaten by strangers until she passes out. This, of course, often leads to death.

7. Forced tattoos

Tattoos are cool…unless you’re forced to get one. That’s what goes on in parts of Paraguay and Brazil. When girls come of age, they’re expected to get either their stomachs, breasts, or backs tattooed in order to impress a mate.

8. Breast burning

There are cultures in Cameroon, Nigeria, and South Africa that press hot stones on young women’s breasts as a way to keep them from growing. Supposedly, the reasoning behind burning the flesh off the boob is so that the women don’t encourage men to rape them. This act is often commissioned by the girl’s parents.

While in most cases, these things only happen in extreme sects of certain cultures, the fact that the rituals are still performed is disgusting. What’s worse, if the women speak out about them, they are perceived as betraying their people.

Read more: http://www.viralnova.com/women-rituals/

READ MORE

Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming

A lecture explaining why using our imaginations, and providing for others to use theirs, is an obligation for all citizens

Its important for people to tell you what side they are on and why, and whether they might be biased. A declaration of members interests, of a sort. So, I am going to be talking to you about reading. Im going to tell you that libraries are important. Im going to suggest that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do. Im going to make an impassioned plea for people to understand what libraries and librarians are, and to preserve both of these things.

And I am biased, obviously and enormously: Im an author, often an author of fiction. I write for children and for adults. For about 30 years I have been earning my living through my words, mostly by making things up and writing them down. It is obviously in my interest for people to read, for them to read fiction, for libraries and librarians to exist and help foster a love of reading and places in which reading can occur.

So Im biased as a writer. But I am much, much more biased as a reader. And I am even more biased as a British citizen.

And Im here giving this talk tonight, under the auspices of the Reading Agency: a charity whose mission is to give everyone an equal chance in life by helping people become confident and enthusiastic readers. Which supports literacy programs, and libraries and individuals and nakedly and wantonly encourages the act of reading. Because, they tell us, everything changes when we read.

And its that change, and that act of reading that Im here to talk about tonight. I want to talk about what reading does. What its good for.

I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldnt read. And certainly couldnt read for pleasure.

Its not one to one: you cant say that a literate society has no criminality. But there are very real correlations.

And I think some of those correlations, the simplest, come from something very simple. Literate people read fiction.

Fiction has two uses. Firstly, its a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if its hard, because someones in trouble and you have to know how its all going to end thats a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, youre on the road to reading everything. And reading is key. There were noises made briefly, a few years ago, about the idea that we were living in a post-literate world, in which the ability to make sense out of written words was somehow redundant, but those days are gone: words are more important than they ever were: we navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto the web, we need to follow, to communicate and to comprehend what we are reading. People who cannot understand each other cannot exchange ideas, cannot communicate, and translation programs only go so far.

The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.

I dont think there is such a thing as a bad book for children. Every now and again it becomes fashionable among some adults to point at a subset of childrens books, a genre, perhaps, or an author, and to declare them bad books, books that children should be stopped from reading. Ive seen it happen over and over; Enid Blyton was declared a bad author, so was RL Stine, so were dozens of others. Comics have been decried as fostering illiteracy.

Enid
No such thing as a bad writer… Enid Blytons Famous Five. Photograph: Greg Balfour Evans/Alamy

Its tosh. Its snobbery and its foolishness. There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. A hackneyed, worn-out idea isnt hackneyed and worn out to them. This is the first time the child has encountered it. Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is a route to other books you may prefer. And not everyone has the same taste as you.

Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a childs love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian improving literature. Youll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.

We need our children to get onto the reading ladder: anything that they enjoy reading will move them up, rung by rung, into literacy. (Also, do not do what this author did when his 11-year-old daughter was into RL Stine, which is to go and get a copy of Stephen Kings Carrie, saying if you liked those youll love this! Holly read nothing but safe stories of settlers on prairies for the rest of her teenage years, and still glares at me when Stephen Kings name is mentioned.)

And the second thing fiction does is to build empathy. When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. Youre being someone else, and when you return to your own world, youre going to be slightly changed.

Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals.

Youre also finding out something as you read vitally important for making your way in the world. And its this:

The world doesnt have to be like this. Things can be different.

I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?

Its simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.

Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere youve never been. Once youve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.

And while were on the subject, Id like to say a few words about escapism. I hear the term bandied about as if its a bad thing. As if escapist fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in.

If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldnt you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with(and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.

As JRR Tolkien reminded us, the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers.

Tolkien's
Tolkiens illustration of Bilbos home, Bag End. Photograph: HarperCollins

Another way to destroy a childs love of reading, of course, is to make sure there are no books of any kind around. And to give them nowhere to read those books. I was lucky. I had an excellent local library growing up. I had the kind of parents who could be persuaded to drop me off in the library on their way to work in summer holidays, and the kind of librarians who did not mind a small, unaccompanied boy heading back into the childrens library every morning and working his way through the card catalogue, looking for books with ghosts or magic or rockets in them, looking for vampires or detectives or witches or wonders. And when I had finished reading the childrens library I began on the adult books.

They were good librarians. They liked books and they liked the books being read. They taught me how to order books from other libraries on inter-library loans. They had no snobbery about anything I read. They just seemed to like that there was this wide-eyed little boy who loved to read, and would talk to me about the books I was reading, they would find me other books in a series, they would help. They treated me as another reader nothing less or more which meant they treated me with respect. I was not used to being treated with respect as an eight-year-old.

But libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.

I worry that here in the 21st century people misunderstand what libraries are and the purpose of them. If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated in a world in which most, but not all, books in print exist digitally. But that is to miss the point fundamentally.

I think it has to do with nature of information. Information has value, and the right information has enormous value. For all of human history, we have lived in a time of information scarcity, and having the needed information was always important, and always worth something: when to plant crops, where to find things, maps and histories and stories they were always good for a meal and company. Information was a valuable thing, and those who had it or could obtain it could charge for that service.

In the last few years, weve moved from an information-scarce economy to one driven by an information glut. According to Eric Schmidt of Google, every two days now the human race creates as much information as we did from the dawn of civilisation until 2003. Thats about five exobytes of data a day, for those of you keeping score. The challenge becomes, not finding that scarce plant growing in the desert, but finding a specific plant growing in a jungle. We are going to need help navigating that information to find the thing we actually need.

A
Photograph: Alamy

Libraries are places that people go to for information. Books are only the tip of the information iceberg: they are there, and libraries can provide you freely and legally with books. More children are borrowing books from libraries than ever before books of all kinds: paper and digital and audio. But libraries are also, for example, places that people, who may not have computers, who may not have internet connections, can go online without paying anything: hugely important when the way you find out about jobs, apply for jobs or apply for benefits is increasingly migrating exclusively online. Librarians can help these people navigate that world.

I do not believe that all books will or should migrate onto screens: as Douglas Adams once pointed out to me, more than 20 years before the Kindle turned up, a physical book is like a shark. Sharks are old: there were sharks in the ocean before the dinosaurs. And the reason there are still sharks around is that sharks are better at being sharks than anything else is. Physical books are tough, hard to destroy, bath-resistant, solar-operated, feel good in your hand: they are good at being books, and there will always be a place for them. They belong in libraries, just as libraries have already become places you can go to get access to ebooks, and audiobooks and DVDs and web content.

A library is a place that is a repository of information and gives every citizen equal access to it. That includes health information. And mental health information. Its a community space. Its a place of safety, a haven from the world. Its a place with librarians in it. What the libraries of the future will be like is something we should be imagining now.

Literacy is more important than ever it was, in this world of text and email, a world of written information. We need to read and write, we need global citizens who can read comfortably, comprehend what they are reading, understand nuance, and make themselves understood.

Libraries really are the gates to the future. So it is unfortunate that, round the world, we observe local authorities seizing the opportunity to close libraries as an easy way to save money, without realising that they are stealing from the future to pay for today. They are closing the gates that should be open.

According to a recent study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, England is the only country where the oldest age group has higher proficiency in both literacy and numeracy than the youngest group, after other factors, such as gender, socio-economic backgrounds and type of occupations are taken into account.

Or to put it another way, our children and our grandchildren are less literate and less numerate than we are. They are less able to navigate the world, to understand it to solve problems. They can be more easily lied to and misled, will be less able to change the world in which they find themselves, be less employable. All of these things. And as a country, England will fall behind other developed nations because it will lack a skilled workforce.

Books are the way that we communicate with the dead. The way that we learn lessons from those who are no longer with us, that humanity has built on itself, progressed, made knowledge incremental rather than something that has to be relearned, over and over. There are tales that are older than most countries, tales that have long outlasted the cultures and the buildings in which they were first told.

I think we have responsibilities to the future. Responsibilities and obligations to children, to the adults those children will become, to the world they will find themselves inhabiting. All of us as readers, as writers, as citizens have obligations. I thought Id try and spell out some of these obligations here.

I believe we have an obligation to read for pleasure, in private and in public places. If we read for pleasure, if others see us reading, then we learn, we exercise our imaginations. We show others that reading is a good thing.

We have an obligation to support libraries. To use libraries, to encourage others to use libraries, to protest the closure of libraries. If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom. You are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.

We have an obligation to read aloud to our children. To read them things they enjoy. To read to them stories we are already tired of. To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not to stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves. Use reading-aloud time as bonding time, as time when no phones are being checked, when the distractions of the world are put aside.

We have an obligation to use the language. To push ourselves: to find out what words mean and how to deploy them, to communicate clearly, to say what we mean. We must not to attempt to freeze language, or to pretend it is a dead thing that must be revered, but we should use it as a living thing, that flows, that borrows words, that allows meanings and pronunciations to change with time.

We writers and especially writers for children, but all writers have an obligation to our readers: its the obligation to write true things, especially important when we are creating tales of people who do not exist in places that never were to understand that truth is not in what happens but what it tells us about who we are. Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, after all. We have an obligation not to bore our readers, but to make them need to turn the pages. One of the best cures for a reluctant reader, after all, is a tale they cannot stop themselves from reading. And while we must tell our readers true things and give them weapons and give them armour and pass on whatever wisdom we have gleaned from our short stay on this green world, we have an obligation not to preach, not to lecture, not to force predigested morals and messages down our readers throats like adult birds feeding their babies pre-masticated maggots; and we have an obligation never, ever, under any circumstances, to write anything for children that we would not want to read ourselves.

We have an obligation to understand and to acknowledge that as writers for children we are doing important work, because if we mess it up and write dull books that turn children away from reading and from books, we ve lessened our own future and diminished theirs.

We all adults and children, writers and readers have an obligation to daydream. We have an obligation to imagine. It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual is less than nothing: an atom in a wall, a grain of rice in a rice field. But the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.

Look around you: I mean it. Pause, for a moment and look around the room that you are in. Im going to point out something so obvious that it tends to be forgotten. Its this: that everything you can see, including the walls, was, at some point, imagined. Someone decided it was easier to sit on a chair than on the ground and imagined the chair. Someone had to imagine a way that I could talk to you in London right now without us all getting rained on.This room and the things in it, and all the other things in this building, this city, exist because, over and over and over, people imagined things.

We have an obligation to make things beautiful. Not to leave the world uglier than we found it, not to empty the oceans, not to leave our problems for the next generation. We have an obligation to clean up after ourselves, and not leave our children with a world weve shortsightedly messed up, shortchanged, and crippled.

We have an obligation to tell our politicians what we want, to vote against politicians of whatever party who do not understand the value of reading in creating worthwhile citizens, who do not want to act to preserve and protect knowledge and encourage literacy. This is not a matter of party politics. This is a matter of common humanity.

Albert Einstein was asked once how we could make our children intelligent. His reply was both simple and wise. If you want your children to be intelligent, he said, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales. He understood the value of reading, and of imagining. I hope we can give our children a world in which they will read, and be read to, and imagine, and understand.

This is an edited version of Neil Gaimans lecture for the Reading Agency, delivered on Monday October 14 at the Barbican in London. The Reading Agencys annual lecture series was initiated in 2012 as a platform for leading writers and thinkers to share original, challenging ideas about reading and libraries.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming

READ MORE

Hollywoods grim century of fat-shaming: from Greta Garbo to Chle Grace Moretz

The film industry has a long and unhealthy obsession with the weight of its female stars. The more who speak up like Moretz did this week the more chance there is of change

This week, 20-year-old actor Chle Grace Moretz said she had been body-shamed by a male actor on set when she was 15. He was her co-star at the time, in his 20s, cast in the role of her love interest, and he said he would never date her in real life, because she was too big. It was a comment that drove her to tears. Moretz is the latest in a string of Hollywood stars who are prepared to be more open about their experiences of sexism in the industry, from Jennifer Lawrence to Emma Watson. Like the late Carrie Fisher, who revealed she was asked to lose weight before appearing in the new Star Wars series, Moretz touches on something particularly troubling: the pressure on women on screen to maintain a body size that may be unrealistic or unhealthy.

Unfortunately, this is nothing new. Silent-film expert Pamela Hutchinson cites the example of Greta Garbo. Louis B Mayer hired her for MGM in 1925, when she was already a success in Europe, with the caveat that In America, we dont like fat women. Garbo ate nothing but spinach for three weeks and then dieted, rigorously, for the rest of her Hollywood career. There were even more extreme measures. An actor called Molly ODay had her excess weight cut away by a surgeon. In 1929, Photoplay magazine explicitly blamed the death of comic actor Katherine Grant on the Hal Roach studios demands for her to lose weight.

Carrie
Carrie Fisher, who said she was told to lose weight before appearing in the new Star Wars films. Photograph: Chris Pizzello/AP

The issue has persisted ever since. Emma Thompson recently said she threatened to quit the 2008 film Brideshead Revisited after a female co-star was asked to lose weight. I said to them, If you speak to her about this again, on any level, I will leave this picture. You are never to do that. Troublingly, Thompson feels the problem is increasing. Its evil whats happening, she continued, and whats going on there, and its getting worse.

While male actors may be asked to lose weight for extreme roles such as Matthew McConaughey playing an Aids patient in Dallas Buyers Club women are routinely asked to slim down simply to play female leads. Ive heard of women on set being openly poked and prodded by male studio executives who discuss their unsuitable size and these actors are tiny in the first place. Jennifer Lawrence has spoken of being considered plus size or fat in Hollywood, while on Twitter, Amanda Seyfried said she had been considered overweight. X-Men: Apocalypse actor Sophie Turner also chimed in recently. There are often times when I have done jobs and theyve told me that I have to lose weight, even when it has nothing to do with the character, she told Porter magazine. It is so fucked up.

This infuriating pressure prompts the question: why? If this is about idealism and adulation, are audiences really asking for this? Actors such as Christina Hendricks and Sofia Vergara, who are curvier than the Hollywood average, have no shortage of admirers.

The feminist campaigner Laura Bates, who started her career as an actor, says this pressure is absolutely rife, both in and outside Hollywood. The pressures on Hollywood women lead to a screen ideal which then heaps more pressure on ordinary women and girls. That Moretz was just 15 when this happened, says Bates, also highlights how body-shaming can impact girls from an incredibly young age. We know that girls are just five when they first start to worry about their size and shape, and that a devastating one-quarter of seven-year-old girls has dieted to lose weight. They are also bombarded with airbrushed, unrealistic media and advertising images that repeatedly send them the message that their bodies are not good enough, that they will be judged by their looks, and that they must conform to a narrow, media-mandated notion of beauty.

Joan Smith, human rights campaigner and author of Misogynies, agrees. Making girls and women feel uncomfortable about their bodies is a way of attacking their confidence. It makes women defensive and inward-looking, and when you feel like that, you lose your sense of having a place in the world. It happens in Hollywood because the stakes money, fame are so high, but it goes far beyond that. At a time when we have a legal right to equality, its a way of restoring the old inequality women are permanently open to scrutiny. Its not always conscious but its nasty and effective.

Bates also points out the massive double standards in Hollywood, saying women are often more pressurised than men. Women who arent Hollywood thin are very rarely cast in mainstream thrillers, sci-fi or fantasy films, and in dramas they usually appear in character roles, often played by older actors. When bigger female characters are the lead in a film, their weight is never incidental, but rather a defining characteristic, such as the role played by Gabourey Sidibe in the 2009 film Precious. Meanwhile, male leads come in all shapes and sizes Jack Black, Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill (now slimmed down) have all appeared frequently in a variety of leading roles, including drama as well as comedy, and stars such as John Travolta, Russell Crowe and Vince Vaughn have been allowed to change physically over the course of their careers.

Gabourey
Gabourey Sidibe, star of 2009 film Precious. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Comedy seems more welcoming of female actors such as Melissa McCarthy, though many of her lead roles have been in films made by her own production company, and others such as Rebel Wilson are usually relegated to the funny best friend role. Amy Schumer has something resembling an average body shape watching 2015s Trainwreck, I remember being startled to see someone who looked more like me and my friends on the big screen. I thought, perhaps, this signalled a cultural shift, but since then Ive mostly been reviewing romcoms with stick-thin heroines perhaps the kind that Moretzs cruel co-star was comparing her with. And sadly, his kind of body shaming isnt confined to Hollywood far from it.

Actor, comedian and writer Arabella Weir thinks Moretz should name and shame the man in question. The problems, as expressed by this particular guy, she says, are all his, not hers and her BMI. To allow comments about ones size to cause one pain is to validate them. Name, shame and circulate as widely as possible all comments of this nature and let their authors attempt to justify them theyre in the wrong, the subject never is. Until women refuse to be categorised by their size, and that includes naming the person, then well always be seen as participating somehow in the myth that thin equals good.

There is hope on the Hollywood horizon: the Sundance hit Patti Cake$ (out on 1 September) is a joyous celebration of a female rapper (Danielle Macdonald) that shows her character suffering from body shaming while she challenges expectations of what a performer should look like. While the story tackles the subject of her weight, its as much about her character and her career aspirations. Moretz herself is in an upcoming body-positive take on Snow White, although she spoke out after its poster seemed to body-shame her character. Also in animation, last years Disney teen Moana had a more realistic shape and this is in a genre previously well known for its preposterous female figures.

But animation is one thing, living, breathing actors another. Hollywood has the power to change things by showcasing a far greater diversity of womens body types, shapes and skin colours, rather than reinforcing suffocating stereotypes and impossible standards, says Bates. It has an opportunity to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Shes right. We need more female actors to speak out and for Hollywood to listen.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/aug/11/hollywoods-grim-century-of-fat-shaming-from-greta-garbo-to-chloe-grace-moretz

READ MORE

Why do stars like Adele keep losing their voice?

The long read: More and more singers are cancelling big shows and turning to surgery to fix their damaged vocal cords. But is the problem actually down to the way they sing?

I dont even know how to start this, Adele wrote in an online letter to fans on 30 June. The previous night, she had played the second show of a sold-out, four-night residency at Wembley Stadium. These dates, in front of audiences of 98,000, were supposed to be the triumphant conclusion of her record-setting, 123-date world tour. But on stage, something had just felt wrong.

Ive struggled vocally both nights, she wrote. I had to push a lot harder than I normally do. I felt like I constantly had to clear my throat. After the second show, Adele went to see her doctor, who told her she had damaged her vocal cords and had no option but to cancel her remaining shows. The most powerful young voice in the music business had fallen silent. To say Im heart broken would be a complete understatement, she wrote.

Though only 29, Adele had been here before. Six years earlier, she had suffered a haemorrhage to her vocal cords after singing live on a French radio program. In order to repair the injury, she underwent an incredibly delicate, high-risk medical intervention: vocal cord microsurgery. In this operation, the surgeon wields miniature scalpels and forceps attached to foot-long poles that are guided down the throat to excise whatever damaged tissue is robbing the vocal cords of their elasticity, and depriving the voice of its natural timbre, range and clarity.

Adeles surgeon, Dr Steven Zeitels, was after a nasty polyp that had formed under her epithelium, the thin outer layer of the vocal cord. Zeitels carefully snipped the layer with a scalpel, and then, with a forcep, pulled back the tissue like a flap, exposing the polyp below. With a second forcep he pulled out the gooey, infected mass, and zapped the remaining haemorrhaged surface with a laser to stop the bleeding and prevent scarring.

The margin for error in such surgeries is measured in fractions of a millimetre. You cant let the instruments touch any healthy tissue. Dig too deep, Zeitels knew, and he would risk damaging the superficial lamina propria, the soft, pliable underlayer of Adeles vocal cords. If he pierced that, he told me, there would be no way to preserve the power and suppleness of her voice.

On 12 February 2012, three months after her surgery, Adele swept up six awards at the Grammys, including album of the year and song of the year. In her acceptance speech for best pop solo performance, she thanked Zeitels for restoring her voice. To most observers, it was a cheering comeback story, but for a handful of medical specialists it was a watershed moment. For years, vocal cord microsurgery had been considered risky. (In 1997, an unsuccessful surgical procedure left Julie Andrews already damaged voice beyond repair.) More than the physical risk, though, singers feared the damage to their careers that could follow if word got out. In the world of showbusiness, it was safer to be seen as a singer with a healthy young voice than as a one-time great with surgically repaired cords.

Now, Adele had suddenly swept away the stigma. In the years since, Zeitels business has boomed, along with those of many of his peers. They have no shortage of patients: there is an epidemic of serious vocal cord injuries in the performing arts. In addition to his work on Adele, Zeitels, who directs the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Laryngeal Surgery and Voice Rehabilitation, has repaired the cords of more than 700 performing artists, including Sam Smith, Lionel Richie, Bono and Cher. Michael Bubl, Keith Urban, Meghan Trainor and Celine Dion have also had to quit touring to get their cords surgically repaired. In a mark of how attitudes to surgery have changed, both Smith and Bubl broke the news of their surgeries to their fans via Instagram.

There is no precise data on the number of performers who have gone under the knife over the years. But several surgeons told me they estimate that vocal cord surgery has been performed on thousands of pop, rock and classical singers, as well as on theatre and stage musical stars. Cancelled shows reverberate across social media and hit a struggling music industry hard. When Adele pulled out of her remaining two Wembley shows this summer, nearly 200,000 tickets had to be refunded. Its unclear if she will ever tour again.

After Adeles 2011 surgery, Zeitels became something of a celebrity. Occasionally, a reporter asked him if Adele was cured for good. He made no assurances, but told Channel 4s Jon Snow that her surgically repaired voice sounds smoother now than before.

While the media was celebrating this miracle surgery, one woman in the music industry raised a dissenting voice. According to Lisa Paglin, a former opera singer turned voice coach, Zeitels had simply found a temporary fix; in the not too distant future, Adele would once again be forced off the stage and back into the operating theatre. It was a prediction that Paglin and Marianna Brilla, her coaching partner, were willing to stake their reputations on. The rash of vocal injuries silencing our most promising young talents, they argued, is too big a problem to be solved by microsurgery.

How many surgeries would Dr Zeitels consider performing on Adele? Or on anyone? After surgery, unless a singer makes major changes, return to performing means a return to the vocal abuse that put her/him on the operating table in the first place, Paglin wrote, in the small trade publication Intermezzo. Concerts injury surgery rest concerts injury surgery. Is this the life of a professional singer?

When Adele cancelled the final nights of her recent tour, Brilla and Paglin felt saddened but vindicated. For more than a decade, they have been pushing for a revolution in the way that almost every modern performer has been taught to use their voice. After years of painstaking research in musical archives, early scientific journals and the classroom, Brilla and Paglin say they can deliver what medical science has failed to: a permanent fix for vocal burnout.

Their solution requires the revival of an all-but-vanished singing method that is not just beautiful to the ear, but also easy on the throat. Some of their ageing and beleaguered clients described it to me as a kind of fountain of youth. But their cure is not without controversy. It is based on a provocative theory that has been gaining ground among a small cadre of international talents: that we have all been singing completely wrong even Adele.


Singing is a rough business. Every vocal performance involves hundreds of thousands of micro-collisions in the throat. The vocal cords also known as vocal folds are a pair of thin, reed-like, muscular strips located inside the larynx, or voice box, in the throat. They are shaped like a wishbone, and contain the densest concentration of nerve tissue in the body.

When we are silent, the cords remain apart to facilitate breathing. When we sing or speak, air is pushed up from the lungs, and the edges of the cords come together in a rapid chopping motion. The air causes the cords to vibrate, creating sound. The greater the vibration, the higher the pitch. By the time a soprano hits those lush high notes, her vocal cords are thwacking together 1,000 times per second, transforming a burst of air from her lungs into music powerful enough to shatter glass.

Beautiful singing requires lithe cords, but all that slapping together can wear down their fine, spongy surface and lead to tiny contusions. Over years of heavy use, nodules, polyps or cysts form on the vocal folds, distorting the sound they create. For a singer, the first sign of trouble is often the wobble. His pitch fluctuates on and off key because his ragged cords have lost their natural vibrato their ability to resonate properly. Then theres the hole, a point on the scale where a singers vibrating vocal cords fail to produce the proper tone. Try as he might, those notes will exit his mouth flat or, worse, as a barely audible gasp.

An
A vintage engraving of a view inside the throat. Photograph: Alamy Stock Vector

It was once unheard-of for a singer to perform with a faulty voice, but the opera world has recently been shaken by a trio of incidents in which the stars Rolando Villazn, Aleksandrs Antonenko and Robert Alagno walked off stage mid-performance, unable to go on. Some opera singers complain of year-round cold symptoms, and legal steroid injections and other drugs are often used to get a struggling singer through a performance. But singing through the wear and tear can cause the lesions to burst and bleed, creating voice-ruining scars, which is what happened to Adele in 2011.

Voice specialists liken the physical toll on singers and stage performers to what athletes endure. Surgery to the professional singers vocal cords is what ligament reconstruction has become to the football players knee. Dusty theatres, stuffy airplane cabins, erratic eating and sleeping patterns, the stress of living off stingy contracts all affect the vocal cords. Add to it the occupational hazard, at least in opera and classical music, of taking on roles that require you to sing above your natural range, and the cords become extremely susceptible to injury.

In 1986, the conductor, vocal coach and New York Times music critic Will Crutchfield lamented that vocal burnout was cutting short careers and diminishing the power of opera, as audiences, by necessity, accustom themselves to hearing voices in poor condition. Back then, Crutchfield saw that singers peaked in their 30s and then began to decline. But Adele, Trainor and Smith all underwent career-saving surgery in their 20s. Vocal burnout is afflicting amateurs, too. One veteran teacher in Italy told me that female students in their early 20s who want to sing like Adele or a young Whitney Houston are the ones who come down with vocal nodules. Another music teacher told me she recently had to instruct one of her 10-year-old students to stop singing and get his damaged cords checked by a specialist.

The rise in vocal injuries is linked to a change in what we consider good singing. Across all genres, it has become normal to believe that louder is better. (One reason that Adele is such a big star is because her voice is so big.) As a result, singers are pushing their cords like never before, which leads to vocal breakdown.

New waves of medical research into the causes of dysphonia, or the inability to properly produce voice, bear this out. In the west, vocal abuse is surprisingly common in all professions that rely on the voice , from schoolteachers to opera singers. Awareness of the problem is growing, but as Adeles case demonstrated, and separate studies conclude, surgery is not necessarily a lasting fix.

Brilla and Paglin have been saying this for years. You cannot solve the problem by simply relieving the symptom, Brilla said. Its a motor problem. The singer has to understand its the way youre running your engine the techniques theyre using to sing. If you dont fix the engine, its going to happen again.


Teatro La Nuova Fenice, a 19th-century opera house built in the neoclassical style, sits at the top of the small hill town of Osimo in central Italy, just inland of the Adriatic Sea. In the grand lobby of the building is a marble plaque commemorating the night in 1927 when the Italian tenor Beniamino Gigli, one of the greatest talents of his era, performed here. Gigli packed concert halls across Europe and the Americas in a career that spanned five decades.

Gigli is an icon of the purer, more natural singing style that characterised a period when vocal injuries were almost unheard of, say Brilla and Paglin. They have a small teaching studio in a cul-de-sac below La Nuova Fenice. Brilla, a dramatic soprano with a fearless air, first became obsessed with the fragility of the human voice more than 50 years ago, as a teenage opera singer growing up in Pennsylvania coal country. A doctor there diagnosed her with a problem common among young singers with big voices: her vocal cords werent coming together properly. She had a hole. Over the next few decades, she cycled through nearly 30 teachers, including legends such as Antonio Tonini and Ellen Faull, trying to learn to sing in a style like Giglis at once powerful, clear and sustainable over the course of many years.

Brilla met Paglin, a lyric soprano who appears small next to Brilla, while studying voice at Indiana Universitys school of music. The two bonded over their love for Italian opera and their frustration with the way singing was taught, even by their legendary teacher Margaret Harshaw. Feeling that the giants of music instruction didnt have the key to vocal longevity, Brilla and Paglin determined that they would be the ones to unlock the secret.

In 1977, Brilla won a prestigious Fulbright scholarship to travel to Italy to search for a way to sing beautifully without risking injury. There, she heard glimpses of perfect arias from older, mostly Italian opera singers who learned their craft in the early 20th century. These singers seemed to effortlessly produce clear, powerful musical tones, and so many of them were still performing with vigour well into their 60s, 70s and 80s. To Brilla, they held a clue to the vocal longevity lost to singers today.

Paglin soon joined her in Rome, where they started spending hours each day at the national sound archive, La Discoteca di Stato, listening to early recordings. They also scoured libraries for texts that discussed how operatic and classical singing techniques had changed over the centuries. When they werent researching, they were performing; big talents in their own right, they performed in many of the major opera houses and music halls of Italy and Austria. This put them in the presence of more masters, whom they peppered with questions. They also tracked down other ageing opera stars, teachers and conductors.

Their research pointed Brilla and Paglin to a surprising conclusion: that responsibility for the modern decline of the voice lay at the feet of Verdi, Wagner and Puccini. These three composers were the pop music sensations of their day. Music scholars credit them with being the first to challenge their singers to push their voices to new limits, in order to capture the emotional ups and downs their characters were feeling. Think of the teenage Japanese bride in Puccinis Madama Butterfly, her heart breaking, desperately watching the seas for a sign her love will return, or the thunderous battle cries of the Valkyries in Wagners Ring cycle. If youre going to kill off the main character of your show, you need genuine rage and pathos on stage.

But Brilla and Paglin heard something different that the emotionally charged, full-throated, operatic singing style Verdi and Wagner made popular in the late 19th century and that Puccini amped up even further in the early 20th century had subsequently infiltrated all singing genres and public performances. With each passing decade, the style grew more extreme. To illustrate the point, when I visited the duo earlier this summer, Paglin pulled from their sprawling research library a file containing a series of images. The first was a photograph, taken in 1920, of the legendary Italian tenor Enrico Caruso mid-aria. Caruso seems to be enjoying himself, even as the camera flashes; its as if hes talking to a friend, not baying at the audience. This is natural singing, Paglin said.

As she flipped from image to image, we travelled towards the present, a decade at a time. The photographs of the more contemporary singers including the tenor Rolando Villazn, who has suffered multiple vocal injuries looked like horror-movie stills: their mouths were wide open, eyes bulging, neck veins popping, as if they were screaming. There was none of Carusos easy calm.

Caruso and Gigli produced legendarily big sounds, but with an effort that todays performers might deride as somewhat wimpy. Compare Carusos 1916 recording of O Sole Mio with Villazns 2010 rendition. Carusos is powerful, but not so powerful that the lyrics crash into one another and become indecipherable; and even at the height of the aria, he doesnt drown out the strings. That Brilla and Paglin had identified this contrast wasnt enough. They wanted to reverse-engineer exactly how Caruso and his contemporaries sang.

Rolando
Rolando Villazn on German TV in 2015. Photograph: Hannes Magerstaedt/Getty Images

In 1983, Brilla convinced Maria Carbone, a retired Italian operatic soprano, to work with them. Carbone was nearing 80, but still had a powerful voice. While Carbone sang, Brilla would clasp Carbones abdomen to feel what was happening inside her body. Carbone started with an aria from Tosca. As her voice rose, hitting higher and higher notes, Brillas eyes widened. I could feel this tick, tick. Tick, tick, she recalled. It was the natural up-down release of her diaphragm. Nothing else was happening. Carbones ribcage wasnt ballooning out as she sang, and there were no deep gulps of air, as is common with todays big-voiced singers. More amazing still, the movement of Carbones abdomen while singing was just as quiet and rhythmic as when she spoke. It was a discovery of what the perfect singers posture should be, Paglin said.

Brilla added: Whereas all the teachers in my life had been telling me to open, open, open to exaggerate her breathing and lunge into every high note to produce the biggest sound Carbone was demonstrating the opposite.The root of the problem, they realised, is in classrooms. Too many students graduate from conservatories who dont know how to sing, and its leading to injury, Brilla said. Weve got to stop this. Its ass-backwards!


It is not just singers whose careers are threatened by deteriorating vocal cords. In 1989, the Italian actor Maddalena Crippa momentarily lost her voice during a live performance of Shakespeares bloodiest work, Titus Andronicus. Crippa was playing Tamora, the vanquished queen of the Goths. After Tamoras son is murdered before her eyes, Crippa said she unleashed these uncontrollable cries. But, for a moment, her next line wouldnt come out. It was the first time in her acting career that Crippas vocal cords had failed her. The suffering I felt was indescribable, she told me.

That suffering continued for more than a decade. Crippas voice was no longer reliably crisp and sonorous, and a burning pain lingered in her throat. After visiting vocal coaches and throat specialists, she got the prognosis that all performers dread: nodules on her cords. Cortisone injections and voice exercises worked well enough to get her back on stage, but her confidence was shaken. You mean you still dont know how to use your voice? she remembered thinking. Its demoralising. Then, in 2002, at the suggestion of a fellow actor, Crippa visited Brilla and Paglins Osimo studio.

Unlike medical doctors, Brilla and Paglin dont own a laryngoscope that allows them to peer into the throat. If someone comes to them with injuries, they treat the problem by ear. They sing a soft note and ask the student to match it precisely. They can hear in the response where the pitch is off-key, and where the damage is located on the cord. (When I spoke with Adeles surgeon, Steven Zeitels, he demonstrated something similar, singing a scale to isolate where his own cord is damaged a perturbation, as its called, the result of years of long hours in the classroom.)

The moment Crippa said hello, Brilla and Paglin knew there was something very wrong with her voice. She exuded tension, as if bracing for confrontation, and took big, gulping breaths before speaking. Brilla and Paglin often see this problem with singers; their vocal cords are so used to having great quantities of air shoved at them that the cords wont respond without that force. Once you start pushing, youre condemned to push for the rest of your life, Paglin told me. Unless you learn a new way of doing it.

In their studio, Brilla and Paglin instructed Crippa to lie on her back and produce a series of high notes, which Paglin demonstrated for me. It sounded like a faint squeaking, as if she was gently releasing air from the neck of a balloon. When Crippa was told to reproduce what Paglin called a floating high C, she protested, saying she couldnt get that far up the scale. Finally, she gave it a try, producing a barely audible piff, followed by a more sustained tone. Hearing herself, Crippa broke down and cried. They were tears of joy, Crippa told me. They touched a nerve deep inside me. I mean, this is my voice. My voice.

Brilla and Paglin say they can restore most vocal cord problems naturally, via exercises that massage out the defect over time. They aim to stimulate the cords precisely where they arent coming together properly, and to break students out of the bad habits that cause problems in the first place: taking big gulps of air, tensing the throat and jaw muscles, forcing the mouth to open to exaggerated proportions, and the urge to scream out the high notes.

There are limits to what Brilla and Paglin claim to be able to do for an ailing artist. Paglin told me of a time when she was watching a singer perform on stage, and could tell there was something very wrong. She got a message to the singer that he urgently needed to see a doctor. He did, and was diagnosed with a form of throat cancer.

But their track record with other difficult cases has earned them a small international following. The veteran Italian stage actor Moni Ovadia was one of their earliest big-name success stories. Throughout his mid-40s, he performed up to 250 shows a year, in Europe and the US, but by 48 he was ready to quit showbusiness. His voice had become flat and raspy, and he found it physically painful to perform. He credits Paglin and Brilla with restoring his voice and his career. They saved my life, he told me. Today, at 71, he is a bull on stage, and can perform non-stop for up to three hours.

In May, at Brilla and Paglins studio in Osimo, I watched an aspiring dramatic soprano named Emanuela Albanesi rehearse the high-energy duet Mi Volete Fiera?, from Gaetano Donizettis comic opera Don Pasquale. There are few, if any, widely accepted standards for teaching singing, and many teachers complain that too many of their peers get jobs because of how they sound, not what they know. Paglin and Brilla mine the internet for teaching videos that concern them, such as one in which a soprano chides a student to open her mouth wider and wider as she sings an aria, in order to achieve more volume; not until the student plugs her fist into her mouth is the teacher satisfied.

Albanesi, however, sang with an ease that belied the strength of her highest notes. As she came to the final grazie!, I was expecting a thunderous, take-the-roof-off moment, but she never lost the disarming grin with which she performed. I thought of that photo of Enrico Caruso singing with such relaxed ease. I whispered to Brilla that it was the first time I had ever been able to make out each and every lyric in a such an intense operatic number. Im telling you, she said. Weve cracked it.


The question remains: could Brilla and Paglins approach permanently cure an artist like Adele by teaching her to sing in a more natural way? Steven Zeitels is dismissive of such an approach, and quick to defend Adele and his other clients against the contention that bad technique is causing their vocal problems. People used to think if you needed an operation it meant you dont know how to sing. The people I see they know how to sing!

Zeitels believes that medical specialists such as himself are becoming increasingly important to the arts, which he compared to other demanding physical pursuits. Any athletic endeavour will eventually take a toll if done for long enough, he said. Whats terrific is were getting better and better at bringing people back.

Specially trained vocal therapists have also restored performers to health through voice training, but medical experts advise taking this route only for minor vocal injuries, such as small nodules. Otherwise, they strongly suggest surgery. This attitude rankles Brilla and Paglin, who have cured artists such as the internationally renowned jazz singer Maria Pia De Vito, who suffered from vocal edema, a painful swelling of the cords, for which surgery is the generally recommended course of action. What irony, Paglin said. There is an industry built around singers who harm themselves while singing, and there is another one built around fixing them up.

Another renowned throat surgeon, Dr Robert T Sataloff, who has performed voice-corrective surgery on several Grammy Award winners, including Neil Diamond and Patti LuPone, bristles at the notion that surgery is not a sensible way to keep singers healthy. Combined with proper education on the dangers of improper singing technique, he believes it can keep people on stage for longer. Is it perfect? No. And it probably never will be, he told me. Like Zeitels, Sataloff drew a sporting analogy. Injury is inevitable and thats when they end up in my office.

Swedish
Swedish opera singer Sigrid Onegin (18891943) having her vocal cords examined. Photograph: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

Some conservatory teachers in Italy dismiss Brilla and Paglins natural-singing approach as heretical, and their disciples as a sect. Over time, the duo have made a number of enemies. An invitation in 2011 to teach a series of master classes at Romes Conservatorio di Musica Santa Cecilia, one of Italys top conservatories, met with near universal opposition among the faculty. The classes were popular with the students, but many teachers didnt want them on campus. Edda Silvestri, the former director of Santa Cecilia, told me she didnt recall any overt hostility towards the duo, but she did remember the rift Brilla and Paglin created between faculty and students. Unfortunately, this is common when you try to introduce any new approach to a conservatory. They are conservative places, Silvestri said. Elizabeth Aubry, the vice president of Italys most influential organisation of singing teachers, the Associazione Insegnanti di Canto Italiana, finds Brilla and Paglins critiques terrible. She said the main objective of her organisation and its counterparts in the UK and US is to teach teachers precisely not to do damage.

For his part, Zeitels is working on a futuristic fix to dysphonia. Anyone who relies particularly heavily on their voice schoolteachers, talkshow hosts, sales reps, preachers, lawyers, frazzled parents is vulnerable to chronic raspiness, or to going hoarse. One of Zeitels patented innovations is to apply a biomaterial a gel implant in the tissue of damaged vocal cords to restore pliability. He sees it as a potentially huge breakthrough. It will be just as important what you put into a vocal cord as what you remove, he told a journalist in 2015.

But some of Brilla and Paglins students are thriving without such intervention, including Maddalena Crippa, who at 59 years old is in the midst of a remarkable second act. Her voice has been injury-free since she started working with Brilla and Paglin 15 years ago, and last May she wrapped up a critically acclaimed tour of LAllegra Vedova, a one-woman-show based on a 1905 operetta. For 75 minutes each night, she sang and acted two roles, the husky-voiced Danilo and the high-pitched Anna, who at one point sing a virtuosic duet. Critics were impressed, with one raving that Crippa is still a brilliant singer.

Adele, however, is one of those rare figures in the arts. Her unique voice, and her story, are so big that many people believe that what she does (or doesnt do) to correct her latest injury will determine future approaches to protecting the voice.

On 1 July, when news broke of Adeles cancellations, Paglin sent me a Whatsapp message. She was frustrated by the press coverage. Recalling that Adeles original surgery in 2011 had proved to be a huge PR victory for vocal-cord microsurgery, she worried that the message from Adeles latest setback would be that, not to worry, a second or third surgery will get the star back on stage. What makes matters worse is that the mechanics are still convinced that all there is to it is to keep operating, while the singers themselves still talk about air travel, drafts, allergies and stress. #elephantintheroom could be a good hashtag, she wrote, referring to what is wrong, as she sees it, with how people are taught to sing in the first place.

A few hours later, she sent me another note. She felt bad for Adele, and wanted to help. We know how to fix Adeles problems (sans surgery), and for good. If only we could talk with her.

Main photograph: Sascha Steinbach/Getty

Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, or sign up to the long read weekly email here.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/aug/10/adele-vocal-cord-surgery-why-stars-keep-losing-their-voices

READ MORE

To the Bone confirms there are (almost) no good movies about anorexia

The Netflix drama, which stars Lily Collins, leans on some outdated tropes. But only a handful of novels and films have evoked the reality of the illness, or explained why so many women turn their unhappiness on themselves

No talk about food. Its boring and its unhelpful, announces Keanu Reeves playing (hold on to your hat) a doctor specialising in eating disorders in To the Bone, the much-discussed upcoming film about anorexia, starring Lily Collins and distributed by Netflix. And this is excellent advice, but it can be hard to see beyond the surface issues when you are dealing with someone who is literally starving themselves to death: the shoulder blades jutting out like birds wings, the food hidden under place mats, the limbs so wasted you can circle them with your fingers. It is even harder if a part of you is turned on by skinny, self-destructive women, as the movies invariably are, and this one definitely is.

Its not easy to make a good movie about anorexia, which is why almost almost none exist. How to depict a mental illness that unlike, say, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder has such a well-known and hard-to-fake physical manifestation? To the Bones writer-director, Marti Noxon who based the movie on her own experiences with the illness got around this by getting Collins, who has spoken about her own struggles with eating disorders, to lose an astonishing amount of weight so that she looks credibly anorexic on screen. Given how thin female actors now have to be just to look slim, your heart breaks at the thought of how much weight she must have lost to look so painfully ill.

To the Bone has been wildly praised since it debuted at Sundance in January, and I can only assume this is because critics get weirdly overexcited when actors undergo physical transformations. The truth is To the Bone is not a good movie about anorexia. In fact, it is a bad one. We could talk all day about the ethics of hiring a young woman who is known to be vulnerable to eating disorders, and then telling her to lose weight to look anorexic, but lets give Collins the benefit of the doubt and say she is an adult woman who is free to make her own career choices. Instead, lets talk about To the Bones real problem, which is that it is shallow, sexist and sick.

The only justification for making a movie like this is that it is going to provide some insight into a much-discussed if little understood problem, a requirement Netflixs earlier and similarly exploitative foray into self-destructive young women, 13 Reasons Why, notably failed to meet. But from the very first scene it is obvious that To the Bone leans on some wearily outdated tropes. We first see Ellen (Collins) in an in-patient unit, in which she and her fellow anorexia patients are beautifully styled in the universally recognised signifiers of crazy-but-sexy young women: heavy kohl eyeliner and mascara, Tank Girl-esque distressed clothing and biker boots. We have gone from 1999s Girl, Interrupted to 2017s Meal, Interrupted.

Click here to watch the trailer for To the Bone.

From there on, the anorexia stereotypes are ticked off with the regularity of hospital mealtimes. The movie disregards its own advice almost immediately about not focusing on the food and does so with voyeuristic intensity, without ever asking why so many women feel so unhappy, and why they then turn this unhappiness on themselves. All the anorexia patients, with one male exception, are young, attractive, middle-class white women, when the illness affects a far broader demographic. Reeves, as Ellens psychiatrist, Dr Beckham, is a self-described unconventional doctor, who proves his unconventionality by swearing occasionally and insisting his methods are totally different from anyone elses (theyre not: they rely on therapy and healthy eating, as almost all eating-disorder treatments do). He also clearly enjoys his power over his mainly female patients and a braver, less conventional film would have explored this more. Instead, To the Bone merely accepts the doctors version of himself as the brilliant, patriarchal medical professional who can fix women.

I am going to show my cards here and say that I am undoubtedly biased on this issue, because I had a doctor similar in some regards to Beckham during my first three hospitalisations: Dr Peter Rowan, then based at the Priory in Roehampton. I was only 14 when I first met him but even then it seemed to me that he revelled too much in his authority over a ward of vulnerable women, who in turn viewed him as god-like. In 2011, 18 years after we parted ways, he was struck off when it emerged he had what was described as a blurred and secretive relationship with a female patient, who left him more than 1m in her will.

Now, clearly, there are plenty of excellent male psychiatrists who work with eating disorders, and my experience was an outlier. But given that anorexia is often a form of rebellion against gender norms, with female and male sufferers rejecting, respectively, sexualised femininity and macho masculinity by starving themselves, it is ironic that a movie should re-enact such gender cliches. The doctor is a man, the nurse is a woman, the women in Ellens life (her mother, stepmother and her mothers girlfriend) are all self-obsessed and bitchy, her father is absent but hard-working. The one male anorexia patient is wise and selfless in a way none of the female patients are, and spoiler alert he, along with the male doctor, helps to save Ellen. Many brilliant women are now the leading lights in eating-disorder treatment, not least the woman who treated me through my last three hospital admissions, Professor Janet Treasure, now the director of the Eating Disorder Unit at the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College, London. So the idea that all that these hysterical female anorexia patients need is a couple of calm men to save them from themselves is, to put it mildly, grating. The film even tacks on a frankly ludicrous romantic subplot, and anyone who thinks patients with eating disorders are making out with one another on hospital wards has clearly never bothered to Google what starvation does to a persons libido.

There is currently a petition online demanding that Netflix pulls the show for two reasons. The first, that it might trigger sufferers, is a point I feel sympathy for but cannot agree with. Legislating against anything that might trigger the mentally ill or vulnerable is an impossible game of Whack-a-Mole. But the petitions other complaint, that it glamorises anorexia, will be less easy for the film-makers to dismiss. Contrary to what the character of Ellen might suggest, anorexia is not all thigh gaps and eyeliner. By the time I was admitted to hospital for the first time when I was 14, most of my hair had fallen out, I could barely walk because I was so cold and my knuckles bled constantly due to extremely dry and cracked skin. Instagram-ready, I was not. There is a line between rendering a complex subject filmable and sexing-up a serious illness, and To the Bone crosses it from the first scene. And when all a movie about anorexia tells you is that people with anorexia have issues with food, and that this makes them thin and unhappy, you have to wonder what the point of the movie is.

Anorexias physical manifestations distract even those of us who have suffered from it from grasping the internal issues. Indeed, that is the point of the starving: we dont have to think about the unhappiness that led us to this point. In one interview, Noxon said that being around Collins and the other actors who were losing weight was difficult for her. I started to need to turn to the other female producers quite frequently and say: Im going to need you to tell me that I dont need to lose weight, she said. When there is a part of you that still gets turned on by not eating, you will not be able to discuss anorexia properly, because you are still preoccupied by the surface symptoms.

Lily
Lily Collins in Netflix drama To the Bone. Photograph: Gilles Mingasson/Netflix/Netflix

Even beyond the directors own issues, it feels almost inevitable that anorexia should be glamorised in a movie made today. We have come a long way from 1983, when Karen Carpenter died of anorexia and people were shocked that someone could actually starve themselves to death, but despite the increased awareness, conversations about the illness still too often descend into voyeuristic fascination. Since the 90s, when skinny became the female beauty standard (a sharp diminution from the more Amazonian supermodels of the 80s), representations of anorexia in mass culture have come wrapped in a weird mix of prurience, spectacle and aspiration. The Daily Mail has a regular, long-running and wildly irresponsible column by a woman writing about her anorexia. The glamorisation of anorexia online is notorious by now, with the rise of pro ana (pro anorexia) websites, which pass on tips about how to avoid eating, and thinspo (thin inspiration) images on Instagram; anorexia has been reduced to an aesthetic expression and To the Bone reflects that.

In terms of art, there is remarkably little that is much better. Poor Richey Edwards, the late guitarist from the Manic Street Preachers, wrote probably the most brutally evocative song about it, 4st 7lbs (I eat too much to die / And not enough to stay alive / Im sitting in the middle waiting). But he himself was so caught up in the illness he could only depict the immediate experience, not the larger overview. In books, there are plenty of anorexia memoirs now both celebrity and non most of which, to be honest, are little more than a mix of food diaries, pop-psychology and self-help.

By far, the best book on the subject is Jenefer Shutes astonishing novel Life-Size, which captures the confusing early descent into the illness, the loneliness of it at its most extreme and the weirdness of hospitalisation better than anything I have ever seen or read. Noxon has responded to criticism of her movie by emphasising it is based on her indidvidual experience, but Life-Size reveals the laziness of this popular get-out clause. Everything is an individual experience, but if your re-telling of it strikes no general chord, the fault is in your telling. Life-Size is a deeply personal story, about a twentysomething with anorexia called Josie. But in its wholly original, quasi-poetic prose style that shifts between memory, the hospitalised present and Josies hallucinations, this is a book that eschews the cliches and, in doing so, touches a wider truth. No one thing can cure someone with anorexia and this book definitely didnt cure me. But it did help me get a fix on my own experience as I was finally starting to recover and, in that regard, changed my life.

There have been only two good movies about anorexia: both treat the subject almost metaphorically and both were directed by Todd Haynes. Most obviously, there is Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, Hayness film about the most famous anorexia sufferer of all, retold with modified Barbie dolls, which perfectly captures the artificially perfect world that many with anorexia feel they need to embody. Then there is his 1995 film Safe, about a woman who seals herself off away into an antiseptic world. While not explicitly about anorexia, Safe evokes the real experience of the illness: the self-imprisonment, the illogicality, the sense you are being eaten up from within by forces you cannot control.

When I think back on my years of being ill, which went on long after I left hospital, I barely think about the food and the weight at all. Instead, I remember the cold, the isolation, the institutionalisation, the time lost and all the things Hayness movies and Shutes book depict so well. Keanu was right: its not about the food. Thats just the boring stuff that distracts even those who should know better.

To the Bone streams on Netflix from Friday.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/jul/12/to-the-bone-confirms-there-are-almost-no-good-movies-about-anorexia

READ MORE

Ultra sound: why music means so much to us | Adam Ockelford

Music is one of lifes great pleasures. But why, asks Adam Ockelford, does it affect us so profoundly?

Its a question that has intrigued thinkers across the ages from Socrates to Schopenhauer: why is it that abstract patterns of sound mean so very much to human beings?

We are more exposed to music than ever before, thanks to streaming from Spotify and YouTube to Mixcloud and downloading, and were bombarded with music via advertising, too. It is there to influence the way we think, feel and behave. As every filmmaker knows, music is unique in its power to stir the emotions. As music therapists work with dementia patients and autistic children has shown, music has the capacity to touch us and tap into memories that words alone are not able to reach. But how?

Defining what isnt music can help us to understand its powerful effect on us. There are those who believe that certain everyday sounds particularly the sounds of nature should be classed as music, such as Tennysons babbling brook. This may be regarded as music to a poets ear, but it doesnt communicate to us in the way music does. Music conveys meaning since all its constituent sounds notes elicit tiny emotional responses, and these are locked together in a coherent narrative through imitation. In this sense, rushing water or pattering rain fail the musical test.

How does music compare with the other uniquely human form of communication in sound: language? Unlike words, sequences of notes are free to convey pure emotion, unfettered by the need for semantic understanding. Hence music requires less mental processing power than language, and music in its simplest form the early vocal interactions between baby and caregiver precede language in human development. The miracle is that the structure and meaning of both music and language are grasped quite intuitively in the early years, merely through exposure. This is because the young brain is primed to search for patterns in sound explicit tuition isnt necessary.

Music is central to the notion of what it is to be human, and spans cultures, continents and centuries.

Many of the core cognitive traits required for musical understanding stem from an evolutionary need one being the ability to detect difference and similarity around us: what looks the same, smells and tastes the same, also sounds the same, and therefore is the same. It may be, as the human brain evolved, other purely musical abilities built on these cognitive survival skills above all, the ability to express oneself emotionally, and to understand others through abstract narratives in sounds. And these skills also became important to our survival.

Current thinking stresses the importance of music in early bonding between parents and infants, and the sense of cohesion within wider social groups it can provide. There is increasing recognition, too, of the potential role of music in the development of empathy, ie If I can copy the sounds you make, then I must in some respects be like you; the emotions that I experience as I make sounds like yours may be the same as the emotions that you experience. And the process is reciprocal, as in: If you imitate me, then to a degree you must understand me, must know how I feel.

My music, your music, our music can bind us together as families, as tribes and as societies in a way that nothing else can.

Comparing Notes: How We Make Sense of Music by Adam Ockelford is published by Profile Books at 20. Order a copy for 17 from bookshop.theguardian.com

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/jul/02/ultra-sound-why-music-means-so-much-to-us

READ MORE

What fathers do

/ by / Tags: , , , , ,

Some fathers do these things.

Some fathers go to the Columbus Public Library used book sale in about 1980 and buy five big boxes of books on every topic. They place those books in a playroom and they result in a consistently relevant personal library for his kids. Every year they learn something new out of that room.

Some fathers take their sons and daughters to Computer Express, a small computer shop, after taking you to Radio Shack and Sun TV and deciding the prices there are too high. Some fathers help you decide on an Atari 800XL with tape drive and they buy you River Raid to go with it.

Some fathers buy you a modem and let you call BBSes all night.

They take you to Boy Scouts and help you win the local Pinewood Derby. They drive you to Bell Labs where you learn UNIX and shell scripting.

Some fathers sit with you and type in programs out of the back of ANTIC Magazine.

They convince the family it wants a dog and picks a special breed, a Kerry Blue Terrier, because it doesnt shed.

They get drunk at the Sheraton hotel bar happy hour and fall out of the car and turn you off alcohol until late in college. Thats when you really find you have a taste for it.

Some fathers help you with your science fair projects and explore wind power with you by making balsa wood models of various generators.

Some fathers give you phone wire, broken stereos, and a soldering iron and tell you to experiment. You do. Some fathers have a garage full of tools and show you how to cut wood and fix brakes and listen to NPR on a broken radio.

Some fathers buy you a Packard Bell 286 and help you learn programming.

Some fathers leave a basket of vinyl in the basement and in it you find Dylan, the Stones, and Janis Joplin, thereby making you the least pop-culturally-aware high schooler in Columbus.

Some fathers work for 40 years at the same boring job to pay for a house and food.

Some fathers take you to Europe and show you the magic of travel. They buy you Mad Magazine in German.

They take you to Mad Magazines offices in Manhattan where you meet Dick DiBartolo, Nick Meglin, and Bill Gaines. That could inspire you to be a writer.

They marvel at your new novel, The Tale of the White Worm, you write when youre twelve. They edit your school essays and, one night, they write an entire research paper about The Crucible for you because youre sick.

Some fathers drive you from college to college looking for the right one. Then some fathers come drive you back from the right college every summer because you dont have a car.

Some fathers help you sell your car when you move to Poland for work.

Some fathers come to your wedding in Warsaw.

They Skype you almost every day, leaving cryptic messages and posting links from Craigslist. Some fathers listen to Rush Limbaugh all day because hes a pleasant distraction.

Some fathers drive twelve hours to visit you in Brooklyn.

Some fathers get grumpy.

Some fathers still make you laugh.

Some fathers get lung cancer.

Some fathers make you scared.

Their failing health encourages you to run again and quit drinking because watching a man who looks so much like you get sick is frightening. But it also encourages you to reconnect with him.

I know: Some fathers beat you. Some fathers leave you. Some fathers die early. Some fathers are cruel. Some fathers die inside.

But some of us get lucky.

Some fathers are great. Some fathers are kind. Some fathers educate, expand, and elucidate. Some fathers give all.

Some of us get lucky.

Happy Fathers Day.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/06/18/what-fathers-do/

READ MORE

Carrie Fisher died from sleep apnea and other factors, coroner says

/ by / Tags: , , ,

Officials could not conclusively determine what caused the actors death in December

Carrie Fisher died from sleep apnea and a combination of other factors, but it was not possible to conclusively determine what caused her death, coroners officials have said.

Among the factors that contributed to Fishers death was buildup of fatty tissue in the walls of her arteries, the Los Angeles County coroners office said in a news release late on Friday. The release states that the Star Wars actor showed signs of having taken multiple drugs, but investigators could not determine whether they contributed to her death in December.

The agency did not immediately respond to a request for additional details about whether a full autopsy report and toxicology results were available.

Fisher, 60, suffered a medical emergency on an international flight on 23 December. Her mother, longtime movie star Debbie Reynolds, died the following day.

Fishers brother, Todd Fisher, said he was not surprised by the results. He added that his family did not want a coroners investigation of his sisters death. Were not enlightened. Theres nothing about this that is enlightening, he said.

I would tell you, from my perspective that theres certainly no news that Carrie did drugs, Todd Fisher said. He noted that his sister wrote about her drug use frequently, and that many of the drugs she took were prescribed by doctors to try to treat her mental health conditions.

Fisher long battled drug addiction and mental illness. She said she smoked pot at 13, used LSD by 21 and was diagnosed as bipolar at 24. She was treated with electroshock therapy and medication.

I am not shocked that part of her health was affected by drugs, Todd Fisher said.

He said his sisters heart condition was probably worsened by her smoking habit, as well as the medications she took. If you want to know what killed her, its all of it, he said.

Todd Fisher said it was difficult to blame doctors who treated his sister because they were trying to help her.

They were doing their best to cure a mental disorder. Can you really blame them? Todd Fisher said. Without her drugs, maybe she would have left long ago.

Carrie Fisher made her feature film debut opposite Warren Beatty in the 1975 hit Shampoo. She also appeared in Austin Powers, The Blues Brothers, Charlies Angels, Hannah and Her Sisters, Scream 3 and When Harry Met Sally …

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2017/jun/17/carrie-fisher-died-from-sleep-apnea-and-other-factors-coroner-says

READ MORE

This hackathon wants to help destigmatize the sex tech industry

In a pitch presentation that capped off hours of collaboration at New York’s first SexTech Hackathon, the subject turned to a decidedly unsexy scenario: Parents talking to their kids about sex.

“How can we foster a safe environment at home for children having conversations about sexual education with their parents?” asked one of the hackathon’s more than 40 participants during a pitch presentation for what would become the event’s winning project.

Better communication would emerge as a theme as hopeful entrepreneurs many of them new to sex tech considered how tech can be used to enrich human sexuality.

Participants get to know one another before breaking into teams.

Image: sextech.nyc

For six hours on Jun 10 at New York’s ThoughtWorks, participants with a range of backgrounds from coding to design to sex therapy worked in teams to imagine products that fall under the vast umbrella of sex tech. Though the term often covers forms of adult content VR pornography, for example the event’s website made clear the criteria for hackathon participation : “While we recognize sexuality is a diverse field, we will not be accepting hack teams for anything related to pornography or entertainment.”

Rather, Saturday’s event was meant to push ideation in the realm of sexual education and pleasure. Following a pitch and feedback session, a panel of sex tech entrepreneurs would select a winner.

Seven teams, formed just a few hours earlier, pitched their visions to the judges panel. “Spinucation” a connected game that aims to start conversations about sex between parents and children took home the top prize: one month to develop the project at Galvanize, a “learning community for technology.”

The winning team’s concept features an app-connected toy, modeled after Spin the Bottle, that determines who will answer a question prompt from the app. Questions would come from an AI built into the app that would use news items on sex and sexuality to generate content. Made for children between ages 5 and 18, the game would also allow parents to choose which topics they want to discuss with their children.

“This is a tech environment, obviously, and we are very critical about technology and how we often end up hiding behind avatars instead of having a more human one-to-one interaction,” said Elena Habre, a designer who worked on the concept. “So we were also thinking how can we leverage AI, but not to hide behind it, but [to] have it facilitate a conversation.”

The winning team answers questions from the judges panel.

Image: sextech.nyc

Other team presentations included concepts for VR that simulates sexual situations for educational purposes, an app or website that would help users understand if they perpetuate rape culture, a subscription box that helps couples in long-term relationships try new things in the bedroom and, the event’s runner-up, an app that facilitates conversations about sex between partners.

While the event’s goal was to encourage female-led innovation in this space, the hackathon open to all genders featured a near fifty-fifty split between men and women participants. The organizers acknowledged a need for a future hackathon organized entirely for people who identify as women.

But though the event was open a diverse set of genders, Bryony Cole hackathon mentor and host of the Future of Sex podcast says the goal was to create a safe environment where women can feel comfortable exploring what might be an unfamiliar industry.

The day started off with a talk from women sex tech entrepreneurs including Mal Harrison, director of the Center for Erotic Intelligence and Kris Jandler, co-founder and CMO of Emojibator. The event also included an ice breaker and discussion session where participants could get to know one another.

Encouraging women-led innovation in sex tech is critical at a time when it’s such a challenge for female entrepreneurs to secure funding in a still-stigmatized industry.

Cole belongs to Women of Sex Tech, a New York-city based group of more than 70 entrepreneurs dedicated to increasing the number and diversity of women working in sex tech. Per its Facebook page: “We want to increase access to funding for female-founded startups in sex tech and decrease the stigma of female sexuality.”

“The interesting thing about that community is they would traditionally be considered competitors,” Cole said. “So we have a group of women that are making sex toys for pleasure, there are people who are doing sex educational apps, and we think these are competitors, but … because the industry is so small and there’s so much stigma, it forced people to band together and go, hey, we need to break through these walls first before we even start to tackle things like how do I sell my vibrator over yours.”

And while these women work to create better opportunities for themselves and their peers, the aim is also to encourage women-led tech industry’s overlooked areas: education, pleasure and, as we saw Saturday, improved communication.

“If you were to look right out to the frontiers of what’s happening in sex tech that’s in VR or teledildonics or AR,” said Cole. “[At this hackathon], we want to solve a really simple problem: We want to get more education about sexual health and awareness to children, or we want to improve the intimacy between couples … That’s nothing crazy and out there that’s just simply the cultural moment we’re at right now.”

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/06/11/new-york-sex-tech-hackathon/

READ MORE