Growing Pains and Pleasures
Sarah Hepola, invasion of the Substack journalists, peanut butter cookies (again?)
Last night I dreamed I was sitting with a young girl who was on the cusp of having growing pains. I explained to her that the bones in shins would elongate and this at times might hurt. Also, that her breasts would bud and this could be a little painful too. No one was worried, just explaining how these things go.
I’m not sure what’s up with the subconscious advising, except to say there’s a great deal of change going on, in Ukraine - the Russians have begun retreating from Kiev - and closer to home. The Fifth Column podcast turns six today…
Within the hour, Matt and Michael will record in Paloma Media studio, which turns one next month…
Before and maybe after, we will drink Ukrainian vodka in celebration of many things, including the publication of Antonia Hitchens’s article, “Among Ukraine’s Foreign Fighters,” in which she spends time with men attracted to war zones. The piece is eye-opening and heartbreaking. A clip:
Meanwhile, Jake, a former infantryman from Indianapolis who’d done a tour in Afghanistan (“it sucked”), told me that he’d decided to join the foreign legion while on vacation in Mexico, even though he had never thought about Ukraine before. “I’m a young man going through a divorce, and I was, like, ‘Well, I have no sense of purpose anymore.’ I had left the army, I am losing my family. So I saw this war on TikTok.”
Antonia and I were reporting from Ukraine at the same time, as was Michael, and all of us plan to go back within the month. “Moynihan Taps In from Ukraine” is really worth a listen…
A few days later, we hopped into the studio to talk Ukraine and ogle Kmele’s brand-new baby boy. And earlier this week, I went on Ben Domenech’s podcast this week. Here’s a clip starring… Substack!
Two days ago, I went for a little beautification in midtown Manhattan. When I arrived, the girls at the reception desk were speaking either Ukrainian (which I am trying to learn now - dobre veche!) or Russian. Here is what happened when I was leaving, and there was just one girl at the desk:
You want to make next appointment?
I can't. I travel for work and I'm not sure when I'll be here.
Where are you from?
I was just in Ukraine.
Where were you? The west?
Yes, Lviv. It was not very bad, not dangerous when I was there.
Yes but it’s terrible. I am telling my father this, that it's very bad, and he's saying, yes well, we have to because of Nazis.
He’s in Russia?
Russians living in Lviv told me the same thing, that they're calling home to tell their families what's really going on and their families are denying it.
They don't believe it. Here, my friend is Ukrainian, her mother is in that city that's being bombed right now...
Kharkiv. Her mother is basically living in a tree house. My friend in Russia, her husband has to go and fight, for this stupid reason. And they have to go because they have to do service. They have no choice.
Can they even understand what they are doing there? The Ukrainians know why they're fighting, they're fighting for their lives and their country.
And in Russia you know what they are complaining about? That Russian soldiers are being tortured. I tell them, in any other country? They would be tearing the soldiers apart. [Pause.] I am scared to tell people where I am from.
None of the Ukrainians I met were angry with the Russian people, they were angry with Putin. One told me that he'd rather die than live under Russian rule.
Yes... The uselessness of all this.
Yes. I want to go back. I'm a journalist.
I'll make an appointment when I know I'll be here.
Okay... wait! [Holds something up.] You want eyelash brush?
Yesterday, I podcasted with one of my favorite new people. From today’s post over on Paloma Media:
Nancy Rommelmann here, with a confession: I don't even understand the impetus to not write about something you want to write about. Procrastination? Feeling ill-equipped? Sure. But not getting your figurative fingers into things you want to explore? Isn't that the delight and also the usefulness of what we are doing here?
Journalist, author, and podcast series creator Sarah Hepola felt this way too; had spent her life writing whatever she wanted. Until she didn't. Until a series of personal issues collided with the cultural climate and she decided to work as hard as she always had -- which is a lot and for twenty years -- but a few subjects? Maybe stay away from those. Maybe the blowback would be too hot; maybe she'd lose friends, her reputation, her career...
"I grew so deeply uncomfortable, so roiled with shame, that I began plotting new careers," Hepola wrote. "How long does it take to become a therapist? Can you actually support yourself as an Uber driver? I applied to pick up groceries for Instacart, and each time I scrolled through the latest batch (seven items, two miles away), I was seized with the fear that I’d fail at that too."
This is the sticky wicket the writer not writing what they sense to be true comes up against. It may be the case that some get rabbity; they check the wind and go with it, are convinced there's right service (and less danger) in being conformative or performatve. They might even get popular! I swear this would feel like locking myself in a fucking coffin, or as I said yesterday to Hepola, during the first of what (I hope!) will be a series of podcasts, I'll go work in a laundromat before I write for clicks.
Last month, after reading Hepola's essay in The Atlantic, "The Things I'm Afraid to Write About" - which is amazingly smart and candid and funny and about what, for the common good, we should be talking about - I moved on to her 2015 memoir, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget. May even a few of us have the guts and deep good humor Hepola has, when talking about some terrifying and deeply personal issues. The book is a goddamn service.
And I loved podcasting with her. And you will too! But don't take my word for it...
You can listen to the whole thing here:
With all the changes, some things fall by the wayside, some deliberately, some because you get busy, including burning the cookies I tell you about here because I was sound editing the above podcast.
And here is the recipe! I’d say bake them about 11 minutes. You want them still a little wet in the middle. Two other things: if the dough does not resemble Play-Doh once you’ve finished mixing it (by hand), pop it in the fridge for a bit. And, as always, take the cookies off the pan - in this case, you can slide the whole parchment off at once - or they will keep baking.
Okay! Onto the Ukrainian vodka. Until next time, from me to you, the Ukrainian toast “Budmo!” which translates to, “let us be.”
Your paid subscription helps me get back to Ukraine and buy more peanut butter cookie ingredients.